Written by Marc Harris, Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist
Why is water quality testing so important in coming up with a true ecologically balanced pond management plan that is specific to each site? In the same way that no two human bodies are alike, no two bodies of water are the same. Two ponds across the street from each other can often have drastically different physical and chemical characteristics even though they are separated by only a few feet. Much like tests performed at a doctor’s office, professional lake managers can use water quality parameters to help gauge the health of a waterbody and determine what each specific waterbody may need, from aeration system installations to nutrient remediation applications to algae and aquatic weed prescriptions. Factors like dissolved oxygen (DO), alkalinity, pH, conductivity, nutrient levels, secchi depth, and bacteria counts all play a role in creating a site specific management plan based off of data collected and not just a lake manager’s intuition.
Lakes and ponds are part of a complex and dynamic ecosystem that are in a constant state of change. Parameters such as alkalinity and conductivity can maintain relatively stable values over times, while DO and pH typically fluctuate throughout the day, but can stay constant from season to season. Factors such as nutrient load and secchi depths usually change with major physical events. A rain storm can introduce large amounts of nutrient rich sediment that can cause both parameters to go up, while a dry spell can allow sediment to settle out causing the parameter values to improve. It is important to regularly have the water quality tested in order to maintain an ecological balanced approach to any site specific pond management plan created in these dynamic ecosystems.
Water quality sampling and testing allows managers and owners to establish baseline values, ultimately increasing the knowledge and understanding surrounding the specific issues of a waterbody. Parameters such as alkalinity and conductivity are analogous to the yearly “physical” each lake or pond is recommended to have. These values rarely change over time much like the height and weight of an adult human. They are typically established based on the chemistry of the source of the water for that specific lake or pond. Major swings in parameter values can signify that something may be imbalanced leading to an unhealthy lake or pond. Both factors can change if the health of the lake or pond is suffering and a treatment can be more effective as a result. Different aquatic products applied at different rates will not all work the same under varying water conditions, so the more information that can go into selecting a product, the better chances for its success.
Water testing results can provide in-the-moment values and aid in determining the best course of action for a specific waterbody, whether a treatment is needed or an aeration system should be installed. The amount of dissolved oxygen helps to determine what species of fish, if any, can survive in the water. DO is influenced by water temperature as well as the amount of organic matter present. A lack of DO is the leading cause of fish kills, especially in summer months when water temperatures are high. pH can also affect what fish species are present as well as the effectiveness of certain algaecides and herbicides.
Assessing nutrient levels and secchi depth measurements before and after a remediation strategy can give valuable insight to the effectiveness of a treatment or application. Nitrogen and phosphorus are the two nutrients of concern when talking about water quality. They become inflated in waterbodies that have been impacted by human activity such as fertilizing and waste runoff. These nutrients are readily taken in by pond algae and plants and used to fuel growth. This leads to what is known as eutrophication. Knowing these values gives us the ability to rate how healthy a waterbody is and anticipate potential future issues that may arise as a result of poor water quality.
Fecal coliform bacteria testing is important to determine whether or not a person or pet can safely swim in the water. E. Coli is one type of fecal coliform that should be regularly monitored in any waterbody where people or pets swim and possibly ingest the water. Many public beaches are required to test E. Coli levels daily, while homeowners and private beach owners may opt to test less frequently. The bacteria is introduced mainly by waterfowl and other bird feces as well as from larger animals in more rural settings.
The more information that can be gathered about a specific lake or pond, the more ecologically minded the management plan can be, and the better a lake or pond owner can plan and budget for the future. Taking time to sample and test water quality parameters can allow one to dive deeper into the unique characteristics of each lake and pond and provide us with the opportunity to develop a site specific management plan to more effectively help balance the complex and dynamic aquatic ecosystems found in lakes and ponds. The environment and your wallet will thank you!
Contact the experts at 888-480-LAKE (5253) for all of your lake, pond and fisheries management needs.
Marc Harris is a Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist with SOLitude Lake Management. Since 1998, SOLitude Lake Management has been committed to providing full service lake and pond management services that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Lake, pond and fisheries management services, consulting, and aquatic products are available nationwide. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com.