Tennessee Lake Construction & Repair Services
Important Considerations When hiring a Lake or Pond Construction Partner
1. Is he an excavator or a pond builder?
Most excavating companies, whether they’re a large company with lots of equipment or a one-man show with nothing but a small bulldozer and a backhoe, will tell you they can build a pond. Unfortunately, many of these individuals don’t have the knowledge and/or equipment to properly build a pond so that it doesn’t leak; in many instances, they simply want your money and don’t care about the end product and whether it succeeds or fails. The first question you should ask a potential builder is whether he owns a sheepsfoot roller; if he doesn’t own one but has a ready source for renting one, ask him to confirm that the rental store will have one available. Many heavy equipment rental places don’t have a sheepsfoot, and if they do they only have one, so if it’s rented on a six-month job when you’re looking to build your pond, the builder needs to have another option. If the builder tells you his dozer will pack just as well as a sheepsfoot, scratch him off the list and call someone else. At least seventy-five percent of all the leaky ponds we have consulted on were built without a sheepsfoot. Dozers aren’t made to compact – they are by design, the fact that they move on tracks, made to spread out the weight of the machine. A sheepsfoot, by virtue of its knobs on the roller drum, creates an interlocking effect between compacted layers of clay, which is impossible with a dozer. We own a Caterpillar sheepsfoot and we’re never at the mercy of rental houses when a landowner is ready to build and doesn’t want to wait weeks or months for equipment.
Another question you can ask an excavator is what type of principal drain he plans to install. Every pond with an earthen dam should have some kind of pipe system for the principal drain for the pond; the most commonly-employed drain for many years was the pipe-and-riser, but in recent years the siphon drain has become popular among knowledgeable pond builders. The pipe-and-riser requires a concrete base to protect the pipe from excessive movement from water pressure; it also requires a large plate, usually steel, called an anti-seep collar, that is placed on the horizontal portion of the pipe inside the core of the dam to prevent leakage around the pipe. (Many dozer operators will simply place a length of PVC pipe through the dam with no collar and no base, and this invariably leads to leaks.) In addition to the principal drain, the dam should also have a properly-engineered earthen spillway, also known as the emergency spillway; however, as the name implies, this earthen release point for the water is only intended for major rain events, and should never be relied on as the sole means of water leaving the pond…And yet we see multiple newly-built ponds every year that have no spillway other than the earthen one. If that prospective lake builder looks at you as though you’re from Mars when you ask about the principal drain, or if he tells you all you need is a PVC pipe through the dam, move on to the next name on your list.
2. Does he have the proper equipment to do the job? Even among excavators that know how to build a pond, there are many who simply don’t have the proper equipment to build your Tennessee pond in a timely, and effective, manner. We’ve already covered how essential a sheepsfoot is; but what about his other equipment? If his dozer is barely larger than your tractor, it’s going to take him months to do what a larger dozer can do in days or weeks. And unless he gave you a flat price from start to finish, that extra time means extra money. Dirt takes time to move; but a 40,000-pound dozer with an eleven-foot-wide blade can move exponentially more dirt in a day than a machine that weighs one-fourth that much and has a blade half as wide. And if your pond builder shows up with nothing but a dozer to do the earth-moving, odds are good that he’s going to take shortcuts on your core trench, or skip it altogether which is a 100% guarantee you’ll have a major leak. We own a 37,000-pound Komatsu with an eleven-foot blade and it will move a lot of dirt quick.
3. Does he know anything about fish, and pond management?
This consideration may seem like a minor one compared to whether or not the pond leaks; it’s only minor if you don’t care what kind of fishing you end up with in the pond.
We did a repair job a year ago on a beautiful eight-acre lake in northern middle Tennessee. The lake had a substantial leak, and wouldn’t get above half-pool; but part of the reason the lake wouldn’t get full was simply the fact that it had been built with almost no watershed. One of the most fundamental considerations for building any lake dependent on run-off as its primary water source is whether there’s enough run-off to keep the lake full. For every acre of lake, there should be between five and fifteen acres of watershed draining into the lake, depending on what kind of land, wooded or open, drains into the lake; if there’s not enough run-off, the lake won’t stay ahead of evaporation even if it holds water like a bathtub. That eight-acre lake had been built on top of a hill and had about an acre of watershed for each acre of water.
While we were there on our first visit, the landowner asked us if there were anything else besides addressing the leak that we would change in terms of the layout of the pond. We pointed out that there were large areas of the pond that would be two feet deep or less at full pool, and that if left at that depth, those shallow areas would cause major weed problems. The owner decided to dig those areas out at the same time we were fixing the leak with bentonite. He still has to pump into the pond constantly with two wells to make up for the lack of watershed, but now he has a full pond and no weed problems – and some very fast-growing, healthy fish.
It’s widely known among anglers, pond owners and non-pond-owners alike, that contouring the bottom of a pond with bass habitat in mind can make a significant difference in the quality of fishing that the pond ultimately produces. But did you know that depth is even more important than bottom features? Properly designing your Tennessee pond with plenty of water at the right depth to maximize the growth of your intended species can make the difference between the pond of your dreams and a pond of nightmares about lost possibility. Most pond owners want big bass, and most know they need good bottom contours, and cover strategically placed on those contours to attract the fish, but if those contours are at a depth that fish won’t use for most of the year, you spent that extra money paying for them for nothing. There are pond owners whose goal is trophy bluegill; and if you build a pond for this particular goal just like you would one for big bass, you’re going to be a very disappointed pond owner, because the two species require opposite designs construction-wise to maximize their growth.
4. Does he have the resources to get your Tennessee Lake Construction permit approved?
Any pond or lake larger than one acre in the state of Tennessee has to have a permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation; any pond or lake regardless of size that impounds, or flows into, a stream has to have an Aquatic Resources Alteration Permit. If you’ve ever had to get approval for anything from a government agency, you know it’s anything but an easy and predictable process. Permitting for a lake or pond, if you don’t have the proper knowledge and experience, can take a long time; we consulted on a half-to-three-acre pond expansion project three years ago that took over a year from the time of initial application to get the permit. The pond to be expanded drained into a small branch that ran through the landowner’s property, and initially the state rejected the application claiming that the pond would permanently pollute the branch. So the landowner made major changes to the plans, got a lawyer involved, and ultimately got the pond approved. Conversely, having the right people handle this laborious process can make an astounding difference: we just completed construction of a 6.5-acre pond that drains into a river designated as an official scenic river of the state, and the permitting was handled by an engineering firm in Nashville with whom we regularly partner. The permitting took two months from start to finish.