How to Build a Natural Stream Pond

Tim Matson provides a guide to building a natural stream pond for your property, including pond advice and building diagrams.

| March/April 1986

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    [3] Spike smaller logs to the top of the downstream logs, leaving a midstream gap of one or two feet. Fasten only the outer ends of the top logs to the sills.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    [1] Dig two trenches across the stream bottom and four feet into the banks. Lay two logs in the downstream trench and one in the upstream, anchored with three-fourths- inch reinforcing rods. Site the trenches roughly four feet apart.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    [2] Lay two-inch mesh wire over the logs and stream bottom, stapled to the logs.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    They built a stone dam and shoveled silt out of the basin. The dam was laid up loose enough to pass the flow and contain a pool.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    [5] The digger dam carves, cleans, and aerates the in-stream swimming hole. It will flow ice free two or three months longer than a still-water pond.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    [4] Cover the wire mesh with brush and then stones. Anchor the log ends with soil and rocks. Now the notch should be enlarged by cutting back on each log alternately from the center of the spillway until the entire flow of the stream passes through. This opening should be cut during an average low-water period. Add spikes to secure the topside logs. Once the center opening is set, nail down an eight-inch-wide hoard to the two sill logs to cover the exposed wire.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

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A pond adds both beauty and value to a country home. Here's a way to create a stream pond without resorting to expensive and soil-damaging heavy equipment.  (See diagrams of how to build a stream pond in the image gallery).

A Stream Pond That Carves [and Cleans] Itself

One summer I swam in a stream pond in the second curve of an oxbow in Abbott Brook. The flow had chiseled into the bank, sweeping out a 20-foot bowl, then doubled back where the roots of a poplar grove held the bank together. Rebounding sediment had settled into a sandy beach on the shallow bank. You could swim all day against the current and never get anywhere.

This stretch of brook with its whirly-pit was one of the brightest lures when the surrounding land was deeded to a young family from California. Lee Ann and Mike turned salvage from an old carriage house into a post-and-beam saltbox near the bank and counted on the pond for household water and summer baths. One summer afternoon, with some help from their daughter Heather, they laid up a stone dam to deepen the basin to six feet. They chopped down a poplar to bridge the brook — great for hanging by the knees in the free current. But with autumn rains came a tide of silt that filled the little pond, and ice and spring snowmelt crumpled the dam.

Just south, Dave and Victoria built a silo house out of dismantled Army barracks trucked from Michigan. It was a memorial to thrift and sixties sentiment. Really monumental were their cellar sauna and front-yard pond. The sauna was a real beauty. Clear cedar boards lined the interior, and two racks of slatted benches crisscrossed the room. A mail-order sheet-metal stove burned with cheery red cheeks near a knee-high window that peered over a rocky brook. During tower construction David and Tor had let the brook run loose. With the house together, they looked around and decided to make a pond. They built a stone dam and shoveled silt out of the basin. The dam was laid up loose enough to pass the flow and contain a pool. It filled deep enough to inspire David, after a midnight sauna, to climb the ladder to his tower roof and leap for the dark pond below. But spring came with runoff that punched out the dam and swept in a load of silt — a nuisance for the rest of us and potentially fatal for David.



So a ritual grew in the summer. Neighbors gathered at different stream ponds for dam repair and silt shoveling. Given a good blend of hot sun and cold beer it was OK, until you got your toe crunched. I began to ponder a better solution. I found it in a 15-year-old illustrated bulletin published by the New York State Conservation Department. "The stream pond," I read, "must lie below the dam." It's simply geology: Pools form naturally in the wake of a waterfall.

"Log pyramid pool digger" is the title the conservationists tagged their pond-making method, and it wasn't long before I saw how smoothly it worked. With my neighbors, Blake and Aletta, who live on the brink of Podunk Brook, I raised a barrier of logs and stones across the water, triggering a waterfall that carved out a pond. Now it flows like a self-propelled excavator and even sweeps itself clean every spring — a sorcerer's impoundment. We just call it the digger pond.






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