Lake and Pond Management Contracts: What to Look For
AS SEEN IN AssociationHelpNow, Issue 6, 2013: Written by Tracey Napoli, AssociationHelpNow staff writer
A lake or a pond in a community can be incredibly pleasing to residents both aesthetically and, at times, recreationally. But they will only serve residents beneficially if they are properly maintained and managed, which may prove to be much more difficult than homeowner associations originally anticipate. In order to assuage and ameliorate this process, HOAs are highly advised to sign a contract with a lake management company as soon as a lake or pond is present in the community. With winter just around the corner, there are a number of important things that HOA leadership should look for in a lake management company and a potential contract. The ultimate goals are to make sure that the pond or lake will be well cared for and that association funds will not be spent in vain.
A lake management company will first perform a site assessment in order to best prescribe what kind of treatment a lake or pond might need. Kevin Tucker, president of SOLitude Lake Management, explains that site assessments begin by taking note of the individual components of a lake or pond, including shape, size, surface area, and depth. The assessment goes on to take a bigger look at the entire watershed around the body of water in order to fully understand what will influence that particular lake or pond. For example, the watershed will reveal how much rainfall will flow into the lake or pond and what kind of contaminants may come into the pond from upstream areas. The assessment also includes searching for existing issues within the lake or pond, such as whether or not algae exists in the water, whether or not any exotic or invasive plant species are living in the water, and whether or not there are areas of erosion or structural problems around the pond. An assessor will also look to determine whether or not a buffer is present. In looking at these variables, management companies can make recommendations that are tailor-made to the pond or lake itself, rather than advising general tips that may not pertain to the body of water in question.
After the assessment, associations must decide what type of annual management contract they prefer. According to the president of Aquatic Weed Control, Jim Donahoe, a comprehensive annual management agreement spans from the first of April to the first of October, comprised of twelve annual visits. There are two types of services that are available in an annual management agreement plan: proactive and reactive services.
There are vast differences between proactive and reactive services that must be considered when a contract is being negotiated. Proactive services are long-term installments where a lake management company will monitor the lake or pond in regular increments. According to Tucker, a minimum of two proactive services per month are typically recommended in order to “greatly reduce the chance of something getting out of control between visits.” Proactive services will also include maintaining healthy vegetative buffers, nutrient remediation, as well as introducing a variety of biological augmentations (such as beneficial bacteria and microorganisms) to help prevent phosphorus from being available for pond algae to feed off. Reactive services, on the other hand, are used only when a problem arises. This would entail taking no form of preventative action against algae or another type of invasive plant until it became a true issue. The reactive method can prove to be problematic. Tucker states that, “When you treat something out of control and it dies and decomposes, it releases those nutrients that caused it to grow in the first place back into the water.” This release leads to further algae blooms in the following weeks or months, thus proving to be an unending cycle. In simple terms, in looking for a lake or pond management contract, an association must determine whether the service offerings are going to be long-term, sustainable, ecologically balancing, and geared toward preventing problems, as opposed to dealing with problems after they occur.
For the budget-conscious HOA or property manager, it may seem that reactive services are the cheaper option. Tucker warns against this belief, however, explaining that in treating problems only after they arise, the cause of the problem is not being effectively dealt with. Neglecting to attack the cause of an issue only means that the problem will continue to reappear as long as the pond continues to exist, therefore posing a very expensive cycle. Instead of choosing this option, Tucker advises associations to work with their lake management company to prioritize what must be dealt with most importantly and what may be pushed off to a later date.
Once a contract is started, the association leadership and lake management company must work together to formulate a budget and a plan that best suits the lake or pond, the community, and the association’s funds. At this time, the lake management company should explain everything that the association may need in the upcoming year, what the bare minimum is, and what may be done to further enhance and make the body of water better. In response to whether or not management companies can fully predict what will happen in the future for an association’s lake or pond, Tucker notes that every lake or pond is different, but there are certain things that negatively affect all of them in the same respect. He goes on to clarify, stating, “It’s not so much that we can predict what’s going to happen in the future, we just know the bad things to expect. In other words, if you have a lot of nutrients come into your pond…we can’t predict how much pond algae you’re going to have, but we can say that the nutrients that go into the pond will cause algae.” This ability to predict what a lake or pond may come across is a skill that lake management companies should reveal while working with an association to best decide what form of action is necessary.
Among other services that may be offered by a lake management company, but that are entirely dependent on the association’s budget and the pond’s necessity, are mapping, bathymetry, and aeration. Donahoe explains mapping as using GPS points to make a contour map of the lake or pond’s bottom. Bathymetry is a specific type of mapping that shows a three-dimensional view of the pond, depicting the entire volume from all angles. Tucker states that a bathymetric survey would be performed in order to see a pond’s current depth and water volume as compared to its original depth and volume, consequently discovering how much sediment accumulated in the pond. Bathymetry is oftentimes used in order to understand what long-term expenses might come forth in dredging a pond or lake. Aeration, on the other hand, is a process that improves nature’s ability to process nutrients and is highly recommended by most management companies. Tucker adds that it may be done instantly, but the size, depth, and shape of the pond must be taken into account to accordingly accommodate the pond’s needs, but that, as a whole, the decision to aerate is a good one if the budget will allow. He asserts that these measures fall under the preventative categories and may pay off in the long run, especially aeration.
In terms of a contract’s time span, Tucker advises for the relationship between the association and the lake management company to extend for the entire life of the lake or pond, stating, “A lot of people make the mistake that, if their pond looks good and looks good for a long time, they start thinking to themselves, ‘Well, what do I need this for if my pond looks good all the time?’ But they forget that the reason the pond looks good all the time is because of the service they have.” Along the same lines, seasonality remains a point of contention and largely depends on the lake or pond’s location in the country. Management companies located in more northern portions of the US can reliably count on having frozen ponds and lakes throughout the winter months. Thus, Donahoe, who is located in Northern Indiana, does not strictly recommend keeping up maintenance throughout the winter months. He advises that maintenance should resume a normal schedule once warmer weather approaches and the body of water is no longer constantly frozen over. Tucker, who is located in more southern portions of the east coast where temperatures tend to stay higher, advises HOAs to keep up maintenance during the winter; he notes that the inability to visibly see a problem within the pond does not mean that an issue is not there. Management is still an option in the winter for the promise of a clear pond or lake in the spring, but it is not a necessity.
A lake or pond will undoubtedly be beneficial to a community if taken care of properly. Through the partnership with a lake or pond management company, the implementation of a proactive contract and the preemptive attitude that will best suit both the lake or pond and the budget, associations can confidently present a safe and beautiful body of water for their communities.