Maintaining Ponds in Winter
MAINTAINING PONDS IS AN ExCELLENT WAY TO increase your revenue. It assures your clients that their ponds will get the best treatment year-round, and you develop a steady, monthly revenue stream.
However, remember that the maintenance of ponds is part of your business, and as a business, it is all year long. When the weather turns cold, you just have to love reaching down through two feet of 33° water to pull up a burned-out light fixture…or for that matter, any type of bodily immersion during that time of year. Here are several tips and tools that help alleviate some, if not all, the discomfort of working with water in an all but solid state.
The first thing you would need to work in the cold climates is gauntlets (gloves). Search online, and enter “trappers gauntlets.” These wonderful gloves come clear up to the average person’s armpit. They’re much heavier than latex, and usually have a minimal insulation to help stave off numbness for several minutes. They even have enough room inside to wear some lightweight jersey or cotton gloves, to further extend your comfort. Just remember, they can be ripped or torn on sharp objects.
Something else you should add is hip boots. Although like a sauna in the summer, insulated hip boots are the only way to go in the winter months. I’ve spent, literally, days in the water with these bad boys and have suffered no ill effects, as long as I kept moving and the blood was circulating.
Another point to remember is to bring along a change of clothes. There is nothing worse than taking an unexpected dunking, even if it’s not your whole body, in the cold months. There is even a real danger of hypothermia, in some instances.
Having a dry pair of socks, jeans, shorts and shirt can make the difference between lasting out a day in the field or a lost day while you dash back home to get warmed up and dry again. I keep an extra jacket and towel in the truck as well. Put your emergency pack in a Ziploc bag and stick it under the seat. Hopefully, you’ll never need them, but if you do, you’ll be glad you’ve got them.
Here’s another tip. Moving water never freezes as quickly as standing water. Here in North Georgia, we recommend to our customers to run their system 24/7. Even pondless features that are normally on a timer should have the timer bypassed and be left on during below-freezing temps, to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. And yes, even so-called flex PVC pipe will split after repeated exposure to water freezing and expanding inside of it.
I had a customer who had dual bead filters that had come with PVC ball valves on the sediment purge opening at the bottom of the tanks. He asked if I would replace them with something a little more professional looking, and easier to turn off and on. I installed brass and stainless steel valves with nice strap handles on them, to make them that much easier to use, and figured I’d never hear another complaint.
Little did I know, the first night we dropped down below 28 degrees, he called the next morning and told me both his valves were leaking water all over the place. I found that hard to believe, but drove down to his place to look for myself.
Sure enough, both brass valves had split along their forging seams, right in the center of the valves. Water had been trapped in the openings and allowed water to escape when the valves were open, between the hollow stainless steel balls and the brass casings. Obviously, it took very little force from the half teaspoon of water that froze and expanded to split the brass.
After a little head scratching and getting two replacement valves, I took the two new valves down to my drill press and, taking note of which side would be facing away from the water when the valve was closed, I drilled a 1/8" hole through to the center of the ball, so that the water had someplace to go without splitting the brass. I’ve never had that problem again, and have used this method on many other systems as well.
Getting back to keeping water from freezing solid, many times an aerator with stone or diaphragm on the bottom of the pond, running all winter, will do a better job of keeping the ice open than a floating electric heating element. It is beneficial to the efficiency of the system if the air pump is indoors or in an insulated, but not sealed, box so that it’s not pumping pure, un-warmed air through your system. You don’t want warm, humid air because the moisture will freeze your lines up.
For those in even colder climes, many times it’s necessary to shut down and “winterize” a system so that it isn’t destroyed by the forces of expanding water as it freezes in the pipes and equipment. Even heavy-duty, spun fiberglass tanks will split from the unrelenting pressure of freezing water. A system in these northern climes should be designed and installed from the ground up, with draining and winterizing in mind.
Make sure that there is at least one drain at the lowest level of the system, to let water drain out gravitationally. For more complex systems, with many turns and levels, you may want to incorporate a valve stem in the line so that low—and I stress low—pressure air from an air compressor can purge the line of water. Never exceed 40 psi, and that is a max. Usually 20 to 25 psi will do the job for you. Any higher pressures and you’ll see what a PVC grenade does when it explodes.
External pumps all come with drain plugs, usually two if there is a primer pot—one in the primer pot and one on the impeller housing. Bead and tank filters almost always have a drain/winterize plug towards the bottom. If you have a bead filter, don’t pull the plug all the way. Just unscrew it enough to let water drain out in a trickle while holding your beads in the tank, and thus not dumping them out on the ground with the draining water.
Most submersible pumps that reside in skimmers in areas where the water will freeze solid in the skimmer should be removed before the cold season begins. Many have recommended setting them in a non-freezing area, in a bucket of water. I have found no advantage to putting them in the water and just let them set in a corner or on a shelf indoors.
I know of some who don’t do any more than just get them out of the water and set them to the side of the pond, to go back in the skimmer with the advent of warmer weather. There seems to be little-to-no harmful effect on the pump. The primary thing to avoid in cold weather is letting the water freeze in an area where its expansion won’t damage or destroy equipment or piping.
I’m sure there are other items of noteworthy interest that I have neglected to mention here, but I think I hit many of the main concerns, and I hope I have passed on a couple of tricks of the trade that you may find helpful.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave Jones is the owner of The Pond Professional.