Dam and drain maintenance is your responsibility

County Agent’s Corner



Winter offers a great time to inspect and maintain your pond dam and water control structures. Temperatures are cool, the leaves are off the trees, and most snakes have gone into hibernation.

Annual inspection and care of your pond dam and water control structures not only serves as peace of mind knowing that your upstream and downstream investments are secure, but also in the safety of others downstream. After all, a breached pond dam can create a staggering amount of force and damage to downstream areas and can be very costly to repair. However, there are several steps that you can take to reduce the risk of dam and drain failure.

One of the most important steps in dam maintenance is mowing throughout the season. Trees and shrubs are some of the leading causes of dam leaks and failures. Large woody plants that are allowed to grow anywhere on the dam may cause leaks as their root systems penetrate the dam’s clay core. Additionally, when plants die and roots decompose, voids are left in the dam and leaks can develop.

If you’ve already got established trees or shrubs on your dam (anything with a trunk greater than 6 inches diameter at breast height) your best option is to keep them as healthy as possible. Removing large trees or shrubs from a dam is more likely to cause leaks than if they are left healthy and standing.

Perhaps the simplest form of maintenance is checking for and clearing debris from your water control structures. These include your trash rack, standpipe (both ends), and both the principal and emergency spillways. Often times, leaf litter and limbs will accumulate on these structures and this debris slows water movement during high rain or flow through events, increasing the risk of flooding.

If a pond level exceeds the height of the dam and begins to wash over, it may take only a few minutes for the dam to erode and wash away… along with the rest of your pond. Be sure to install, repair, or replace trash racks over your pond’s standpipe as necessary as they can rust off or the grates can break and bend.

When examining a dam it is very important to keep an eye out for any damage caused by wildlife. If beaver or muskrat are using your pond, they should be removed immediately. Besides the obvious problems of cutting desirable trees and vegetation along the pond, they often attempt to make their homes inside of the pond dam.

Beaver or muskrat that burrow into your pond dam can cause substantial leaks and dam failure. Additionally, these and other animals can attempt to clog or nest in the standpipe on the downstream side of the dam, so be sure to check that both ends are cleaned out.

Also, cattle should not be allowed any access to a pond dam. Cattle that walk on pond dams can create issues with erosion as vegetation is destroyed. It is suggested that cattle be fenced out of the pond or allowed limited access if it is used to water.

Lastly, for those ponds constructed with a valve to serve as a control for water level, now is a good time to exercise/operate the control structure. This is done to keep your control valve in good working order. Valves left unused for years at a time will often become inoperable. Because of this, caution and best judgment should be used in deciding whether it is safe to open any pond valve. Older ponds or those valves that have not been operated on a regular basis can often fail to open or seize and fail to close leaving a pond to helplessly drain. Use your own discretion.

Checking these pond maintenance chores off of your list will help to prolong the life of your pond and allow for peace of mind knowing that your pond’s dam and water control structures are sound.

Information like this and much more is available at your county’s Alabama Cooperative Extension System office. Please give us a call.

Norm Haley is the Regional Extension Agent – Forestry, Wildlife, & Natural Resources Management, in Blount County and can be reached by contacting the Blount County Extension office at 205-274-2129 or by email at nvh0001@aces.edu.

Happy Thanksgiving from your Blount County Extension Office!