Build a Pond

Build a pond with these tips and advice on topography, water sources and more.

| April/May 2006

Dug And Dammed Pond

To create a dug-and-dammed pond, like the one in the illustration, first remove the topsoil covering the foundation area, and dig a core trench (shown as a dark gray triangle) that extends to clay or bedrock. Then fill the trench with well-compacted dense material. To prevent the dam from washing out during heavy rains, install a vertical overflow pipe and horizontal spillway pipe with anti-seep collars (to prevent leaks from developing along the pipes) at the base of the dam. The top of the overflow pipe should be about 2 1/2 feet below the top of the dam. After the pipes are installed, dig soil from the pond area and construct the dam over the core trench, with the front (water) side of the dam at a 3:1 slope and the back of the dam at a 2:1 slope.


One of the first things many people say when looking out over a few acres is, “I wish I had a pond.” Ponds add scenic beauty to a property and provide opportunities for boating, swimming and fishing. There also are many practical uses for a pond — livestock watering, crop irrigation, fish production, wildlife habitat and as an emergency source of water for fighting fires.

In 1956, when my parents bought 15 acres in the country, the first thing they did was build a pond. Actually, Mom and Dad didn’t build it themselves; they hired a man with a bulldozer. The huge, yellow machine quickly scooped out a natural depression along an old fence row. Soil was piled thick and high at the lower end of the slope to form a modest earthen dam. When the rains came, the hole began filling with water. That was three years after legendary homesteaders Helen and Scott Nearing started enlarging a spring to build a pond at their new homestead in coastal Maine. True to form, the Nearings did most of the work themselves — by hand. For more than 25 years the Nearings continued to expand their pond, steadily deepening and enlarging it.

Ponds, like their owners, come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes. But each one is “a spot of beauty, a sparkling universe teeming with life,” Louis Bromfield wrote in his 1948 book, Malabar Farm. “For the children they are a source of inexhaustible delight. And like the fishponds of the abbeys and castles of medieval Europe and the Dark Ages, when all the world fell apart in anarchy and disorder, they provide not only food for the table but peace for the soul and an understanding of man’s relationship to the universe.”

Siting and Planning a Pond

Here are the main factors to evaluate before building your own pond.

Topography. As in real estate, there are three secrets to success with ponds — location, location, location. Water runs downhill, and a pond simply collects and stores water. It is the most basic form of a reservoir. Locate your pond where the largest storage volume can be obtained with the least amount of earth moving.

There are two basic ways to create a pond — digging a hole or building a dam. Usually, the form is implicit in the site — to dam or to dig — and the land reveals the answer, says Tim Matson, author of Earth Ponds.

5/28/2016 8:31:21 PM

i was digging a pond and had banked up the dirt on the side to haul off at a later time. all at once the bottom of the pond started to rise and the gumbo clay started to spew up and the bank started to sink. Has anyone ever experienced anything like this. It was unreal to me. thanks for any comment. I am

4/10/2016 12:21:21 PM

KATHYC-----Dynamite. Seriously, you would have to talk to some experts to find the best way to proceed in your case.

7/22/2015 8:37:34 AM

Sorry for typos. I would love a small pond but live on solid rock! Any ideas?

7/22/2015 8:35:27 AM

I would live a pond but luve on solid rock. Any ideas? It doesnt have to be big. Only a small one. Any ideas?

3/7/2014 10:18:57 AM

Anyone able to offer a bit of advice? I've just started to build my own pond - i'd like to have fish in it too but I've been told that I need a pond pump (like the ones here - Does anyone have any knowledge of pumps and which are the best?

10/31/2012 11:34:27 PM

i have 6 acres and want a pond. atleast 3/4 Heeeeelllllppppp

12/14/2008 3:47:52 PM

Hello, Looking for some advice and hoping you can help me or refer me a site that can. I recently moved into a home that has about a .5 acre pond towards the back of the property. The dam had been washed out in one corner therefore decreasing the the depth of the pond by about 4 feet. We used about 8 loads of clay to repair the area and packed it down sufficiently. The dam is about 150' long. After we did the repairs we installed 2 12" culverts side by side about 6" below the top of the dam to provide for the overflow when the rains began. Beginning yesterday we experienced record rainfalls. The water began to flow over the dam and eventually took out one of the culverts thereby washing out the spot the culvert was in. Obviously the culverts are too small. Is there a formula that is used to provide for the correct size of the culverts and overflow? Can anyone help me? Steve

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