A damn fine dam if we do say so

I’ve written here before about our efforts to rebuild the dam that is responsible for the small pond that exists on our land. The pond is worth having; originally a natural depression in the ground, it was dug out some time in the last 20 or so years by the previous owners as they needed a constant source of water for irrigating their crops. Consequently, at its centre it’s easily 15 feet or more deep (we haven’t been able to take a good measure yet).

Pond with handmade dam made of stone-filled cages

All of these shots were taken in November, when my husband and our two boys undertook the latest round of work on strengthening the dam that we started early last year.

When we bought our land, two years ago, the pond had the remnants of a beaver dam. It wasn’t clear to us at the time how long the dam would last, but in less than a year it was obvious that this natural dam was not going to last much longer; with each heavy rain it seemed to erode further. My husband and I knew nothing of maintaining a pond and so set about reading and researching. It was my husband who settled on the idea of wire cages filled with stone and it made a lot of sense: we had lots of leftover page wire fencing material lying around the place, and a lot of loose stones in our woods and relatively near the pond. We had the makings of an almost no-cost solution on our hands, which was attractive both financially and in terms of the recycling we could do. The only new material that we planned to use was a bit of concrete to reinforce the main dam wall.

Handmade dam out of stone and wire cages

Earlier this year we spent a lot of time hauling stones from different parts of our property, including a stone and wood ‘spoil heap’ about 100 feet away from the pond, and creating a stockpile of stones with which we could work. Cage-making was next, and then fitting the cages. By the 1st of May the cages were filled and the water level had been restored, but we knew that we weren’t done. Over time we knew that water would still seep through the porous stone cages and so we waited until the pond’s level was again at an all time low in the late fall (due to a pretty dry season), giving us a dry work area.

In early November I took my leave for the better part of a weekend and had some time with my good friend J and my mum, leaving the menfolk to work on the dam. That weekend they topped up the cages, closed them in along the pond-side with wooden planks and a sturdy old ‘Back Off Government’ sign that used to grace the field in front of our house, and reinforced the front of the dam with concrete.

Stone filled cage for a hand made dam

Early work was also undertaken on building up the banks alongside and behind the dam, which are in need of protecting from water erosion. This part of the project has also been undertaken with stones, but placed freehand, as with fence building. More work will be needed to further reinforce these banks, but we’re off to a good start.

Hand made dam and bank reinforcements made of stones

We’ll need to live with the results of our work on rebuilding our dam for a good few seasons to assess its success, but at the moment, things are looking good. By the end of the fall the pond was brimful once more and any signs of seepage were extremely minor thanks to the concrete reinforcement work undertaken in November. Last week when we took a wander down to the pond during a very cold spell, we stood on the frozen pond and realized that our feet were completely level with the top of the dam. Hurrah!

Longer term, we’d like to stock the pond with fish native to this part of Eastern Ontario, as the pond is fed by two small streams and therefore continually being refreshed (it’s not a nasty stagnant pool, in other words). We have loads of frogs, toads, minnows and other small aquatic creatures, a resident turtle who winters over in the mud at the bottom of the pond, visiting ducks and geese, and at least one heron who calls the pond and its immediate area home, but no significant fish population. This will take more research and learning on our part of we’re to do this properly however. A project for the new year.

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