UNIVERSITY PARK – Lots of folks get the wrong idea about pond-owner education offered by Penn State Cooperative Extension, according to Bryan Swistock, extension water-resources specialist. The programs have nothing to do with those ornamental backyard ponds that have become so popular these days, and everything to do with wider and serious water-quality concerns.
“Our programs target ponds and lakes that range from an impoundment on a farm of less than an acre to a small private lake of many acres,” Swistock said. “The one thing these ponds have in common is that they all somehow are connected to nearby streams or groundwater aquifers.”
That link to a water source is critical, Swistock said, because the actions owners take to manage their pond — such as applying herbicides to control aquatic weeds or algae or allowing nutrients and sediment to enter the pond — ultimately affect public water.
“So we try to educate and work with pond owners to help them make the right decisions for both their own and public waters,” he said. “The goal is to promote a more sustainable approach to aquatic plant management in Pennsylvania ponds and lakes.”
It is estimated that there are several hundred thousand privately owned ponds and lakes in Pennsylvania, according to Swistock. Historically, their owners have received assistance from a variety of state, federal and local agencies. In recent years, however, Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have largely served them.
Surveys have shown that more than half of owners felt that their ponds had nuisance levels of aquatic plants and algae growth — by far, the most common complaint among respondents, Swistock said.
“Our experience shows that most pond owners have a strong interest in managing their pond rather than hiring a professional pond consultant,” he said. “This strong interest in self-management of ponds often leads to problems associated with aquatic herbicide use. Aquatic plants and algae are not readily identifiable by pond owners, and many do not understand the value of aquatic plants or the underlying, nutrient-related causes for overabundant plant and algae growth.”
Pond owners often turn to aquatic herbicides because they are effective, readily available and quick-acting, Swistock said. Pennsylvania requires annual certification of commercial aquatic-pesticide applicators, but pond and lake owners can legally apply an herbicide to their pond after obtaining a simple state permit through the Fish and Boat Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“Surveys of pond owners conducted by Cooperative Extension and the Fish and Boat Commission suggest there are frequent problems with aquatic herbicide use,” Swistock said. “Among these are incorrect identification of targeted aquatic plants, incorrect dosage of aquatic herbicide and incorrect timing of herbicide treatment. Many of the most commonly permitted herbicides carry significant environmental risk if not used properly.”
Pond owners also need to realize that nuisance growths of aquatic plants and algae are often related to water-quality issues from overabundant nutrients. Swistock pointed out that high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the water stimulate plant growth in ponds and lakes.
“While chemicals can be used to kill aquatic plants, pond owners need to understand that preventing nutrients from entering the pond will have a long-term benefit of reducing aquatic plant growth, improving the appearance of the pond and benefitting the public waters that are connected to the pond. This can be done by creating buffer strips around the pond perimeter and reducing nearby sources of nutrients such as fertilizer applications.”
For more information on proper management of ponds and lakes, consult the Penn State Cooperative Extension pond-management Web site at http://water.cas.psu.edu/ponds.htm online. The Web site includes contact information for extension specialists, fact sheets, videos and information about a 12-week pond home-study course offered each April.