Ensuring the Success of Your Aquatic Assets

Ensuring the Success of Your Aquatic Assets

Private lakes and ponds hold a unique allure for property owners seeking tranquility and natural beauty and a place to wet a line and catch fish. Yet, under the water surface lies a delicate ecosystem that demands meticulous care and attention to thrive. Welcome to the realm of private lake and pond management, where the balance of aquatic life and human enjoyment is delicately maintained. In this blog, we'll explore the importance of lake management, delve into some common practices employed to maintain these aquatic resources, and address some common issues and concerns faced by lake and pond owners.

Why Lake & Pond Management Matters

Private lakes serve as more than just picturesque backdrops; they are essential ecosystems that support a diverse array of aquatic life. Effective lake and pond management is crucial for achieving your goals whether that is to improve water quality, produce a quality fishery, control aquatic vegetation/algae, or to maintain an aesthetically pleasing lake or pond.

Common Lake Management Practices

  1. Water Quality Monitoring: Regular testing for parameters like alkalinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, cyanobacteria, and nutrient levels is essential to assess the health of the lake.  No matter the goals for your body of water, monitoring water quality helps identify potential issues early and informs management decisions.
  2. Aquatic Weed & Algae Control: Overgrowth of aquatic weeds or algae can cause an array of issues such as reducing oxygen levels, impeding water flow, reducing oxygen levels, and hindering recreational activities. The key to controlling aquatic weeds and algae is to identify the species correctly and implement control measures early before the weeds or algae growth takes over the body of water. Control measures may include routine herbicide or algaecide treatments, employing phosphorus binders to reduce phosphorus levels, lake and pond dye applications to shade out sunlight and deter aquatic weed growth, or stocking grass carp for the control of submersed aquatic weeds. Depending on your goals, maintaining some vegetation growth in your body of water will help add additional fish habitat and vegetation can help absorb excess nutrients from the water body. 
  3. Fisheries Management: Balancing fish populations through supplemental fish stocking, fish harvesting, and habitat enhancements are a few  management inputs required to ensure a healthy and growing fishery. Prior to implementing any of these inputs or to continually monitor a fishery, Aquatic Environmental Services (AES) recommends conducting an electrofishing survey. Electrofishing is the most effective tool for analyzing a fishery and the data it provides allows our biologist to develop a customized management plan to maintain or improve the fishery and reach your goals for the fishery.
  4. Erosion Control: Implementing erosion control measures such as buffer zones, shoreline stabilization, and sediment traps minimizes sediment runoff into the lake, preserving water clarity and quality.
  5. Aeration Systems: Aeration systems come in different forms and sizes and include surface aerators, bottom diffused aeration systems, oxygen saturation systems, and aerating fountains. All have their benefits and often, a combination of different systems is best for maintaining adequate oxygen levels in your lake and pond. Depending on the aeration type, these systems add oxygen directly to water and/or mix naturally occurring oxygen throughout the entire water column. Most importantly, aeration systems create a healthier environment for the fishery so that the fish stay healthy and continue to grow. Systems like a bottom diffused aeration system, can help increase the breakdown of organic matter and reduce internal nutrient loading, thus helping to deter algae and cyanobacteria growth. At AES, we believe every lake or pond should have some form of aeration system. 
  6. Nutrient Management: Over half of the lakes and ponds we encounter contain excessive nutrients, primarily phosphorus. Excessive nutrients from runoff can lead to algal blooms and degrade water quality. If your lake has excessive aquatic weed or algae growth, excessive nutrients are most likely the cause. For lakes and ponds with excess nutrients, employing phosphorus binding products will reduce phosphorus levels and mitigate the issues caused by excess phosphorus levels. Management strategies such as vegetative buffers, nutrient uptake by aquatic plants, and sediment management can also mitigate nutrient influx. 

Common Lake Issues and Concerns

  1. Water Quality: From low oxygen levels to excessive nutrients, water quality is the foundation of maintaining a healthy lake. Excessive nutrients can lead to eutrophication—a process where excessive aquatic weed growth and/or algae blooms deplete oxygen levels, suffocating aquatic life and impairing the overall water quality. There is no silver bullet for correcting such issues and often, a multi-prone attack is best which can include, installing an aeration system, mitigating phosphorus levels, treating weeds and algae with herbicides or algaecides. Most importantly, continued monitoring and management is needed to maintain proper water quality.  
  2. Undesirable Species: Undesirable aquatic weeds and fish species can wreak havoc on lake ecosystems by outcompeting desirable species, altering habitat structure, and disrupting the balance of the fishery. Undesirable species of aquatic weeds and fish can mean different things to different lake and pond owners. For example, if your goal is to produce trophy largemouth bass, channel catfish could be considered undesirable for your goals whereas your neighbor may consider channel catfish desirable in their lake. This is why it is critical to consult with our biologist to analyze your lake or pond, determine realistic goals for your body of water, and develop a management plan or road map to reach your goals. 
  3. Sedimentation: Accumulation of sediment from erosion and runoff reduces water depth, fills in habitat niches, can increase aquatic weed and algae growth, and degrades water clarity. Sedimentation also carries pollutants and nutrients, exacerbating water quality issues. 
  4. Aquatic Weed & Algae Infestation: Unchecked growth of aquatic weeds and algae can reduce water quality, reduce fish feeding efficiency, and hinder recreational activities such as boating and fishing. Getting aquatic weed and algae growth under control sooner rather than later will save lake and pond owners from headaches and save money as well. 
  5. Lack of Fish Harvesting: There are several factors that cause a fishery to become out of balance which leads to lower growth rates of the fish. However, the most common factor that we see is the lack of fish harvesting. Catch and release has its place but one of the most important tools a lake owner and a fisheries biologist has in managing a fishery is fish harvesting. This primarily applies to predators such as largemouth bass, crappie, and catfish. No matter how well a lake or pond is stocked, if it is not managed and fish are not harvested, it will naturally progress to an out of balance condition with too many predators and not enough forage species. When this happens, the predators will have terribly slow growth. To correct an out of balance fishery, several management inputs will be needed and the most important one will be increasing the harvesting of fish. 
  6. Lack of Management: Something that we run into every day are lakes and ponds that just haven’t been managed or have been managed haphazardly over the years. Oftentimes, lake and pond owners will stock a lake and assume they can come back in a year or so and start catching quality fish. Unfortunately, this plan is not going to work ten out of ten times. Fisheries of all shapes and sizes must be managed for them to thrive. Management includes everything from water quality management, fish harvesting, supplemental fish stocking, habitat management, aquatic weed and algae control, etc. 

As reflected above, lake and pond management is a multifaceted endeavor that requires a comprehensive understanding of ecological processes, sound scientific principles, and as we like to say: “Thinking outside of the box.” By working with AES biologists to implement effective management practices and addressing common and not so common issues and concerns, lake owners can safeguard the health and vitality of their aquatic assets for generations to come. Whether it's monitoring water quality, controlling invasive weeds and algae, fisheries management, or lake and pond design and construction, AES is here to satisfy all of your management needs. So, let us embark on this journey together, as custodians of your lake or pond, ensuring they remain havens of tranquility and tight lines. 

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