Renovating the Small Pond – Part 1

new small pond

This was the restored pond after it’s first major re-build.

When I first built the “small pond” as I like to call it more than 15 years ago, it was a part of a two pond construction. The ponds were separated by a weir which allowed water to flow from one to the other which then in turn was pumped back to the top of the first and bigger of the two ponds. I kept this system in place for several years but had a lot of trouble in maintaining the water levels between the two ponds. In the end, I installed a 1200 gph pump in order to balance the water which in turn lost all of the effects I was trying to achieve.  After several years of discontent on my part, I made the decision to separate the two ponds and have them independent of each other. About four years ago, I did a major renovation on the lower pond which included doing repair work on the liner. Last year, I renovated the upper pond. Apparently, my work on the lower or small pond did not hold up and it was not long before I detected a leak in this pond.  It was only a small leak and by keeping the automatic water levelers  on, not very noticeable and not very costly. Even so, it was still a pain and bothered me to no end knowing that the pond was leaking somewhere. I guess my pride was also hurt knowing that my workmanship in which I take a lot of care, had failed in this instance.

A couple of months ago, I turned off the water leveler hoping that the pond would slowly drain down and then I could find a point where it had stopped which would give me the indication of where the hole in the liner might be. I suspected that the rats of which I have several, had chewed a small hole, enough to create a leaky situation without actually draining the pond. I have had to repair such leaks in the other ponds and the “Old Man” disappearing stream has been rebuilt 4 times and still has a leak. I even concreted under the liner to seal the bottom of the stream  and somehow, they have managed to chew a hole either in the waterfall which is slowly creeping nearer the statue making the stream shorter as I keep rebuilding it or it is in the disappearing fountain box. I know that the rats have made a home in the waterfall as one ran down the tunnel which I had exposed as I was searching for the leak. I have sat here at my computer looking out of the window and watched as several of them have come out to feed on the bird seeds that have dropped from the feeders. Can’t poison them because of the dogs and when I tried to trap them, all I caught were Wrens who like to eat the seed also. Darn rats.

Back to the pond. The water had dropped about a foot with no sign of stopping and obviously no hole to repair. I did not want to wait until the hot weather to get here and decided to go ahead and more or less completely rebuild the pond and install a brand new liner on top of the existing one. I needed a plan so the next step was decide the best approach as I did not want to move the 60 or so goldfish until the last minute to keep their time in stock tanks at a minimum. I should mention that I live in Austin, Texas which is located right at the start of the Hill Country. We can dig down about a foot and then hit limestone. Consequently, all of my ponds are built upwards after going down as deep as possible which is usually only about a foot or so. This pond is actually about 2 feet deep and that is because the contractor who built the house had done some back-filling in that particular spot and I got lucky.

I decided that my best approach was going to be to remove all of the stone exposed in the upper part of the surrounding walls and replace them with concrete block which in turn will be covered by the old and then eventually the new liner below the water level. I should mention that I plan on taking advantage of this rebuilding and add another 8 inches or maybe more to the depth of the pond so that it should measure out around 3 feet deep when I am finished. I can achieve this by making the outside walls higher which is possible as I still have to purchase a new piece of liner.

I wanted to try to do a lot of the work without disturbing the goldfish. I was able to remove all of the stone from the outside of the pond by working carefully and taking it down piece by piece leaving the goldfish still in the pond.  At the same time, from the outside, I rebuilt the walls using the concrete blocks all the way to the new raised water level. The blocks would eventually be covered with the new liner which would be hidden below the water level.

As the work progressed and as I had gone as far as I could from the outside, I  had to put on the waders and get into the water to work on the rest of the stone/block-work. While I was in there, I took the opportunity of cleaning out some of the pond plants leaving just a few so the fish still had some cover. Things went well including a couple of trips to my local Lowe’s at Bee Caves where I had to pick up concrete blocks. I didn’t plan very well and instead of getting them all at the same time, I hadn’t thought far enough ahead about using two different sizes 8 inch and 4 inch and had to go back for the 4 inch blocks. The young guy that helped me to load them was full of complaints about his job but did mention that he was a lot stronger and had lost some weight for the hard and strenuous work he had chosen for himself. I didn’t point out that I was also going to have work with the blocks and I wouldn’t have any help and am probably at least 4 times his age and am very happy that I am still able to work with the heavy blocks. Two opposing views and I didn’t want to make him feel bad…

After completing the dismantling and having a new supply of blocks to work with, I continued to rebuild the outside walls with the blocks. The plan was to build the perimeter, including anchoring the old liner between the blocks, to the proposed new height which would make the pond an extra 8 inches deeper. I finished the basic work around the perimeter and all of the blocks were in place and the old liner stretched up and over them to make a good foundation for the new liner.


Showing the first set of raised blocks  and the old liner. The goldfish are still in the pond at this point.

I moved the 2 – 80 gallon holding tanks closer to the pond to contain the fish. I pumped down the water from the pond and put some into each tank and then topped them up with fresh water. Then I set the 4 stone aerators close enough with 2 stones in each tank. I thought that I would have to ask my buddy George to come over and help me with the fish when it occurred to me that the very low spot is right next to the side of the pond and easily within reach for me to net out the fish after pumping down the water which is what I did. I managed to catch all that were in the pond and transferred them to the stock tanks. With any luck, I was hoping that they would only be there at the most 2 days and nights if things really worked well. It turned out that by the time I caught all of the fish, there were 73 altogether. I removed the plants and blocks and cleaned out the pond ready for the new liner which I still had to buy.

As a matter of interest, I discovered the leak after I pumped the pond down. It was right on the bottom in a seam that had come unglued. I would have had to let the pond completely drain out before I could have discovered it and the only reason that I found it this time is that water flowed back into the pond through the hole. There I was blaming the poor old rats…

Leak in the liner

I called my local Pond Supply, Leaf Gardens to see if they had a piece of liner. Unfortunately, they were out and would not have a new roll until the following week so I opted to drive to Cedar Park to Hill Country Water Gardens as they had liner of the right size. I just love going to that place. It is always so well laid out and they were in the process of changing the front ponds to connect to a stream. They are always doing something to make the place interesting. They cut and loaded the liner for me and at the same time, I purchased de-chlorinator and also a pond treatment for the fish in the big pond  and made my way home.

First thing was to unload the liner which I managed to wrestle off the trailer and onto my dolly. I thought about calling my buddy George to give me a hand but figured that I should try to do it myself. Turns out that I was able to work it off the dolly and into the pond without too much trouble. It must have weighed well over a 100 pounds but by being careful and thinking ahead, I got it into position. Once it was unfolded, it was fairly easy to keep moving it around until I was more or less happy with how it was fitting.  I found out much to my chagrin, that I had over compensated and had a lot of liner hanging over the blocks, enough that I could raise the walls by another 8 inches all the way around which will give the pond more depth to the 4 feet I was aiming for.

Of course, I never had enough blocks… again and as the trailer was still hooked to the car, I drove to Lowe’s in Bee Caves and they loaded another 45 –  8 inch blocks and 10 – 4 inch for me. This time, it was two different guys one of whom just wanted to show off his manliness by  loading the blocks by himself. The other guy, a much younger and obviously smarter kid,  just sat on the forklift and I stood back and watched, very appreciative of the fact that he wanted to do the work. Wish I could get them to come home and place them in position. Actually, the pleasure for me of having ponds is more in the construction than maintaining the finished product. I have worked in the construction industry all my life in many different capacities and there is nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction that working on and completing another project can give. Working on home projects by myself is always another challenge as I need to think very carefully about how to do things by myself without any help. That plus lifting and moving the heavy blocks and the stone is a great work out.  Who needs a gym when I can get all of the weight training that I need and exercise my mind on the planning at the same time.


More to follow in Part 2.

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