Small Impoundment Management in North America

Chapter 5: Managing the Pond Environment

Nathan Stone, Joseph E. Morris, and Barry Smith


This chapter focuses on managing the pond environment to best meet pond owners’ needs, uses, and expectations. The introduction describes some effects of geographic location, changing societal values, and recent regulations, as well as management costs. Key management practices of liming, fertilization, feeding fish, and aeration are covered in depth, while topics such as managing nutrients and improving habitat are treated more briefly. A final section reviews issues specific to the use of ponds for watering livestock. The chapter lays the groundwork of managing ponds for uses other than fish production, even though much less research has focused on optimal management for these other uses.

Early farm ponds were constructed primarily for stock-watering. Swingle and Smith (1941) developed early farm pond fish production recommendations for the South, and many ponds were then managed as sources of family food. Holloway (1947) listed swimming, boating, duck hunting, water for livestock, and irrigation among the uses of ponds, but considered fishing to be the primary purpose for ponds in the southeastern USA. In the early years, along with appropriate fish stocking and harvest recommendations, managing the pond environment meant increasing the natural fertility to produce more and larger fish. While recreational fishing remains an important use of small impoundments, pond management has become far more complex as pond owner values and preferences have changed over time.

It is incumbent upon fisheries biologists, extension scientists, and others who provide recommendations to pond owners to understand their changing desires and preferences. Moreover, new laws and regulations have emerged that reflect changing attitudes and values of society toward water resources and the environment. Increasingly, ponds constructed for farm use are now owned and managed by hobby farm owners who may place a greater value on nonfisheries uses. These may include ponds as a source of water for wildlife, propagation of native wetland vegetation, or even as a refuge for amphibians (e.g., Knutson et al. 2004). The science of pond management has evolved in response, and now includes methods to reduce productivity as well as enhance it. Fact sheets by Butler and Terlizzi (1999) and McCarty (2006) are examples of outreach publications that incorporate ecology into farm pond management. There is also a need to revise and refresh education materials on pond management to effectively reach new farm pond audiences, many unfamiliar with agronomic crop production and farm practices. This chapter is intended as a starting point for the development of new materials that are designed for new pond audiences with changing priorities.