Ponds are everywhere.

Apartment complexes, housing developments, and municipal parks often feature these small bodies of water. While they may enhance the beauty of their surroundings, it may surprise you to know they were not created solely for aesthetic purposes, or to enhance the value of the property. They serve a working purpose as well.

When new homes or commercial buildings and streets take the place of open ground, rainwater gets displaced that would otherwise be absorbed. In addition, excavation changes the contour of the landscape and removes vegetation that once naturally slowed rainwater runoff and acted as a natural filter before the water flowed into nearby lakes, streams and rivers. In order to offset such impacts, developers include engineered ponds on the property known as stormwater systems, detention ponds, or retention ponds. These help manage the surface water. Not only is this regulated by local municipalities, but aquatic management consultants, like Clarke, get involved to help to protect the water quality of the entire surrounding area while developments are under construction.

Without a carefully planned stormwater system, standing water could saturate the landscape, and jeopardize the integrity of structural foundations. From the start, these retention ponds act as mini flood-control features, collecting excessive rainwater and slowing its flow into nearby bodies of water.

Contaminated Runoff

A lot more than pure rainwater runs into stormwater systems after a summer shower. Carried along with it are garden and turf fertilizers and pesticides. Even oil and detergents from driveway car maintenance and organic matter such as grass clippings and leaves make their way into retention ponds. And have you ever thought about what happens to wildlife and unmanaged pet waste?

So yes, every time it rains, all of these contaminants and more collect in the stormwater system. In many cases, your community retention pond acts as a first line of defense to trap these contaminants and give them a place to break down further before ultimately going into the groundwater and making their way to nearby streams or wetlands.

High Levels of Nutrients

The toxic elements that flow into stormwater ponds are not healthy for the pond itself. Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer run-off are great plant nutrients that can cause plants (desirable and undesirable) to grow out of balance. This is how an invasive species can quickly choke out natural plants.

Algae: A Matter of Balance

Algae is an informal word for a number of aquatic plants that live in bodies of water. They can range from microscopic in size up to the giant kelp found in oceans. At certain levels, algae are good for the health of a pond because they help mitigate toxic levels of nitrogen in the water. If a storm water system has too many nutrients from contaminated runoff and bright sunshine, the reproduction rate of algae can get out of control, causing what is called an “algae bloom.” In other words, algae can take over the place. A bloom has a cascade effect, adding more nutrients to the water, causing more reproduction until large portions of the surface are covered, blocking sunlight needed for other beneficial plants and fish underneath. Left unchecked, in time plants, fish and algae can die, giving off a nasty smell that indicates your stormwater system is in trouble. If you spot any of these invasive signs, call our experts at 800-323-5727.

DIY: Education and Prevention

The best thing a community can do to promote a healthy stormwater system is to limit the amount of pollutants that enter in the first place. This calls for an education program on what residents can do to help.

Proactive education efforts cost little but can have big payoffs. If you are overseeing a homeowner association that is taking over from a developer, start your education early. And, include all influencers, not just homeowners. This includes landscapers and other vendors working on the property. Here are some general tips to share:

•          Reduce amounts of pesticides and herbicides

•          Minimize use of fertilizer

•          Pick up pet waste

•          Don’t dump oil, detergents, leaves and lawn clippings down storm drains

•          Pick up grass clippings

•          Rake up and dispose of leaves in the fall

•          Redirect runoff from patios and roofs so it has a chance to soak into the ground

•          Plant grass or plants in bare areas to prevent erosion

•          Send homeowners annual reminders

•          Protect the buffer zone; the area leading to the edge of the pond. Thoughtfully planned grass, trees and shrubs around a storm water pond buffer or slow down rain and snow melt runoff that can add nutrients, sediments, and other pollutants.

If you need help getting started in your community, aquatic management professionals at Clarke are available to develop your educational program.

Communication is Key

Think of a stormwater system as a living organism. The sooner you start monitoring its health, the better. We hope you recognize that your pond is serving a greater purpose for the community. Once the stormwater system is doing its job properly, your education efforts should continue with residents to ensure that it stays that way. Contact us to find your local representative. We’re always happy to meet new friends.