Ponds as Emergency Water Sources

In many parts of the United States, ponds are as common as bees. Often the results of periodic flooding in river basins, ponds are an important part of local ecosystems. Many an adult can recall a pleasant childhood memory of chasing frogs or fishing in a local pond. A pond’s ability to sustain wildlife extends to sustaining us as well if you learn how to use ponds as emergency water sources.

Man has tamed the pond, as he has many other of nature’s features, and just as the in-ground pool is now ubiquitous in communities throughout the world, so too, the backyard pond can be possessed by those with the inclination. As the owner of a pond, one possesses not only the valuable aesthetic benefits of this little piece of nature’s beauty but the emergency preparedness benefits as well.

Let’s look at how your beautiful little pond can help sustain your family in a disaster. We’re going to address the backyard pond first, and then we’ll look at how ponds in your local area can supplement your survival strategy.

Beautiful and Life-sustaining

The pond is the anchor of a local ecosystem and sustains aquatic plants, insects, fish, birds, and other wildlife. Water is needed for life, and a concentration of water equals a concentration of life. Whether natural or man-made, a pond contains more water in a small area than you could reasonably store in your garage or backyard shed.

For example, a pond 15 feet by 15 feet and 2 feet deep contains approximately 450 gallons of water, or the equivalent of almost 2,200 pint-sized water bottles (1 cubic foot=7.48 gallons). Add some fish, and you have an additional food supply as well (fish also help control nuisance insects like mosquitoes).

As with any home improvement, money is a trade off with time and effort. In other words, if you have a ton of money, you can just hire a landscape architect to design and build your backyard pond. For the rest of us, there are numerous online resources and books available to help you start your own pond.

A basic pond requires some kind of liner to contain the water. There are rigid ones that are in a particular shape and flexible ones that allow you to design the shape and features within the pond. Anything over about 250 gallons will require the use of a flexible liner.

The actual construction techniques for installing your pond are comprehensively covered online. I particularly like This Old House for a great step-by-step explanation.

In addition to the installation of the pond liner, we have other details to plan. A pond isn’t just storage for water. It is a chemical and biological soup that should be managed to assure nuisances like algae and nitrates don’t ruin your plans. The good news is that you can design the pond’s environment to address likely problems. As a part of your emergency water supply, you need to get this right.

Your ally in keeping your pond environment clear and fresh is oxygen. Just as a living-room aquarium relies on a pump and filter to keep fish alive, a backyard pond benefits from a fresh stream of oxygen in the form of a fountain or waterfall. If you have fish in your pond, a pump and some type of biological filter is essential for removing ammonia and nitrates excreted from the fish. Aquatic plants help in much the same way.

Keeping it Clean

A biological filter sounds pretty complicated. The fact is that all you need is a place for beneficial bacteria to grow and a flow of water through the area. You’re going to love how easy this filter is to make. I have had great success with evaporative (swamp) cooler pads, available at your hardware store. Find a container, like a 55 gallon drum or big trash can, and direct the discharge from your pump into the container. Roll up a swamp cooler pad and place into the container, which needs to have a closed top (cuts down on mosquitoes).

Use a “bulkhead fitting” (also available at the hardware store) to affix a hose from the container back to the pond, where you can direct the discharge to a waterfall or fountain. The good bacteria naturally latch on to the fibers of the pad, and turn the nitrates and ammonia into a dark sludge. This sludge collects at the bottom of the container, and is full of nutrients for plants. Periodic draining of the sludge keeps your bio filter in top shape.

Using the Pond Water for Emergencies

When the finished pond establishes its own balance, the water should be pretty clear. While it is probably safe to drink, prudence indicates at least some basic purification before use. Straining the water through a coffee filter or other cloth will remove the larger particles. At a minimum, boil the water for a couple of minutes. Adding 8 drops of regular chlorine bleach per gallon will accomplish the same level of treatment in 30 minutes. As a last resort, you can put the water in clear plastic bottles and leave it in the sun all day. The ultraviolet rays from the sun kill microbes in the water. Using ponds as emergency water sources only works if the water is safe to drink.

Living Off the Land: Natural Ponds as a Water Source

Using natural pond water is a good strategy in areas with lots of rainfall or with a high water table. It’s a little trickier when you come across a stagnant pool with lots of algae, or foam. If you have the choice, avoid it as the excess algae can indicate contamination with chemical runoff.

When collecting water from a natural pond, draw from below the surface and above the bottom. Both areas are more prone to contaminants. A regular garden hose and 12 volt pump (available at hardware stores) are sufficient for water collection. Take extra care in purifying water from a natural pond, distillation and/or reverse osmosis are ideal methods. Boiling and bleach are second choices.

Of course, other water sources like streams and lakes are valuable water sources, but are greatly outnumbered by the humble pond. To be on the safe side, get your own!

More resources for water purification

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