How to Use Ponds as Emergency Water Sources
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In many parts of the United States, ponds are as common as bees. Often the result 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. But, just as the in-ground pool is now ubiquitous in communities throughout the world, the backyard pond can also be possessed by those with the inclination. As the owner of a pond, one has the valuable aesthetic benefits of this little piece of nature’s beauty and the emergency preparedness benefits.
Let’s look at how your beautiful little pond can help sustain your family in a disaster. We’ll address the backyard pond first, and then we’ll look at how ponds in your local area can supplement your survival strategy.
Can you use a pond as a water source?
Yes, you can use ponds as emergency water sources. The pond is the anchor of a local ecosystem. It 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. Plus, fish also help control nuisance insects like mosquitoes.
However, just slapping some plastic in a hole and thinking you’re set for drinking water will get you and other people sick. If that’s the position you’re in, you might need to consider dew ponds, above/below ground stills, plant transpiration, and other survival types of water acquisition.
Some Basic Info About Building A Backyard Pond
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. So we’ll just hit on a few high-level points.
- 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.
- In addition to installing the pond liner, you must plan for the quality of the water. Ponds are a chemical and biological soup that must be managed to assure nuisances like algae and nitrates don’t ruin your plans.
- Decide in advance if you want just a water source or if aquaponics is also desired. Pivoting later, while possible, costs more money and time.
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. Tainted water carries deadly pathogens, and you’ll need to know how to purify that water completely before using it for drinking or cooking.
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 hire a landscape architect to design and build your backyard pond. But, for the rest of us, there are numerous online resources and books, like this one, available to help you start your own pond.
Keeping it Clean
Once you have your pond in place and operational, you must maintain it.
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 are essential for removing ammonia and nitrates excreted from the fish. Aquatic plants help in much the same way.
How to Make a DIY Biological Filter
A biological filter sounds pretty complicated. However, all you need is a place for beneficial bacteria to grow and a flow of water through the area.
Here’s how I make my own:
- Find a container, like a 55-gallon drum or big trash can, and direct the discharge from your pump into the container. It should have a closed top to cut down on mosquitoes.
- Roll up evaporative (swamp) cooler pads, available at your hardware store, and place them into the container. I’ve had great success with these pads.
- 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.
- Periodically drain the sludge to keep your biofilter in top shape.
How to Turn Pond Water Into Drinking Water
The water should be pretty clear when the finished pond establishes its own balance. While it is probably safe to drink, prudence indicates some basic purification before use.
You have several options for this, including:
- Straining the water through a coffee filter or other cloth removes the larger particles.
- At a minimum, boil the water for a couple of minutes.
- Adding eight drops of regular household 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.
Obviously, using ponds as emergency water sources only works if the water is safe to drink. I recommend getting The Survival Mom’s Complete Water Purification Cheat Sheet to make sure you know what to do.
How to Use Natural Ponds as a Water Source
Using natural pond water is a good strategy in areas with lots of rainfall or a high water table. However, 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. Unfortunately, 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 but vastly outnumbered by the humble pond. So, to be on the safe side, get your own!
More Resources for Water Purification
Do you have a pond that you’re prepared to use as an emergency water source?
This article was originally published on July 23, 2014, and has been updated.
Jim has spent time as a volunteer firefighter, Emergency Medical Technician, and wildland fire hand crew member. He is currently a Certified Emergency Manager. In 2011, Jim authored “I Can Overcome That: The Practical Guide to Surviving the Next Big California Earthquake.”