Special Reports

Neglecting the neighborhood pond could cost you

Folks around here seem to like having a pond near their houses. Neighborhoods all over town carry names that have some reference to lakeside or shores for home circling a big pond.

But those ponds need tending and maintenance by the homeowners, if they want to keep that view intact. Sedgwick County Extension agents say without proper maintenance, homeowners could find themselves hit with a bill that could surpass $100,000 to nurse a pond back to health.

And it would be their own fault.

"Everyone sees the water turning colors and hears about algae blooms, and they automatically think that it must be from farms and businesses," said Tonya Bronleewe, a county extension agent specializing in natural resources. "But most of the time it's coming from all of the little things we put in our yard."

After all, there are nothing but homes surrounding the ponds in most of these neighborhoods, and it's the runoff from yards that creates a mess, if it's not properly managed. It's such a developing problem that Bronleewe can't point to a single neighborhood in Sedgwick County that she'd highlight as a model of best practices.

"The funny thing about this situation is that there are lots of frustrations, opinions, passions about this issue, but when push comes to shove it is very hard to get a home owners association to commit to putting dollars into projects that will help maintain a pond," she said.

Still, individual homeowners can do their part to keep from having to shell out bucks later when that so-called lakeside view starts resembling more of a marsh. It's nutrients from plant clippings, fertilizer and other sources which create algae and other growths that muck up the water.

Everything runs downstream. If there's nothing else you remember about protecting the local watershed, remember that.

Whatever you put on your lawn, your drive-way or sidewalk will washes into the nearest pond, stream, lake or river -- especially if you water too much.

All that watering and fertilizing not only makes for dirty water, it also hurts your lawn.

"We call it babying your lawn," Bronleewe said. "Just as you can spoil your child, you can spoil your lawn and make it weak by using too much fertilizer and watering too much."

Then there are the geese. Canada geese that used to stop through during their migration south are finding the ponds we make in Kansas great places to stay.

The numbers of urban geese are increasing every year, according to state park officials. There were more than 71,000 geese in the Wichita area in January. This spring, there were more than 4,600 -- 18 percent more than last year. That's just counting the ones who won't leave.

The problem with geese: poop. And we all know how fast it can go through a goose. One goose makes about 1,200 pounds of dropping each year. Know where that goes? Yes, geese like water.

Geese also eat grass. Bronleewe said they can eat so much grass it erodes the areas around a pond that might filter out pollutants and slow the runoff.

Some people feed the geese. That encourages them to stay around and cause more erosion -- and make more, you-know-what.

Charles Cope, a state wildlife biologist, said to control geese populations, neighborhood associations can apply for permits to destroy nests. Nearly 400 nests have been eradicated under that program, Cope said.

Those who own land around the ponds can also plant tall grasses. To the geese, prairie grasses and native plants could hide predators. That scares the fowl away. Those plants have deep root systems, which can suck out the nutrients before they hit the water (See list below).

"In Wichita, we need to get over the idea that our lawns have to be two inches tall and look like a golf course," said Richard Basore, watershed field manager for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. "I say, that may look nice but it's all fake and bake. We need to enhance our aesthetics to something more natural that has less impact on the world around us."

Most of the pollution in our ponds and streams come from many sources. Scientists call this nonpoint source pollution. Simply put, it's pollution where you can't point to a single source. Usually, it comes from our own backyards, and we can prevent it.

There are more than 400 of these ponds in the Wichita area.

But these are even good habits if we don’t have a pond we can see from our windows.

We do all have a community water feature we should protect: the Arkansas River.

10 tips for homeowners

Steps individuals can take to protect their neighborhood ponds and community waterways:

  • Understand every storm drain leads directly to the nearest pond or stream. What goes down the drain ends up in the pond.
  • Sweep or blow grass clippings off the driveway or street and back into the lawn. Clippings carry excess nutrients, increasing the potential for more algae.
  • Wash cars in the grass or take them to an automatic car wash to prevent soaps, containing phosphorus, from adding to algae growth.
  • Excess fertilizers encourage algae growth. Do not fertilize near a pond’s edge, and use a drop spreader near water, driveways, streets and sidewalks. Contact the Sedgwick County Extension Center at 316-660-0100 for information on the best time to fertilize and for soil tests.
  • Only apply fertilizers that contain phosphorus if recommended by a soil test. Then apply the phosphorus fertilizer after core aeration.
  • Water the lawn not the sidewalk or street. Landscape with plants that don't require a lot of water.
  • Avoid overwatering the lawn. Turf grass only needs 1 inch of water per week. This includes rain. If it rains a ½ inch on Monday, you only need to water another ½ inch the rest of the week.
  • Allow grass to grow taller: up to 15 inches (if neighborhood covenants allow), in a 5-foot or greater strip around the pond’s edge. Or plant native grasses around the edge to create abuffer between the manicured lawn and the water.
  • Do not feed urban geese. Geese eat grass around a ponds edge creating bare spots that cause bank erosion. Goose poop is full of nutrients that wash into the pond and increase algae growth.
  • Scoop the Poop. Pick up pet waste on walks and in the yard. Pet waste contains phosphorus and harmful bacteria that can wash into the storm drains and ponds.

Source: Sedgwick County Extension Center

Plants for the pond's edge