view from Mesa Winds Farm at sunrise
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New Pond, Summer 07

Digging the hole

A boat has been described as "a hole in the water into which you pour money." A pond might be thought of in a similar fashion – except that it can't, in the end, sink. And, of course, the object is to pour in water.
It's a good idea to find a contractor who's dug a pond before, who likes doing it, and who knows local conditions. The shape you're after is often artistically irregular to imitate a "natural" farm pond.
Digging a pond is similar to other earth-moving projects in that you can only guess what you're going to encounter once you start scraping away the soil.
Our contractor, Kent, not only loves digging ponds, he lives a mile from here. He knows only too well that we farm on top of a pile of big rocks. When he saw the rocks that came out of the minor excavation for the barn, he expressed concern there might not be enough dirt to complete the dam. In the end there was enough but he wasn't far off.
Of course, the contractor is only in evidence at the beginning and end of the project. The real artist is the equipment operator. Tom told me he has been operating track hoes and the like for 28 years. It showed. He used the hoe to pull the rocks, load them into a rubber-tired loader, and to rough-out the hole. Then he used the blade to shape the bottom and to push the spoils up the sides.
Working his way around the hole he built up the dam and shaped the inside topography. Up and down, up and down. He could tip the ungainly machine over the edge of the dam so gently you’d think it was level ground. Then he shaped the top of the dam by driving around it with the blade angled to push dirt to the outside.
He stopped after each sequence to check his elevations with a laser level. The hole gradually got deeper, the dam higher, the substrate got finer, and the shape more artful: consistent slope inside and out, rounded inside corners, level and flat dam, smooth dirt surface. It was engrossing to watch the fine and delicate touch he could command from the huge, awkward machine.
It is a beautiful work of art!

Lining the pond

The pond liner followed.

A single huge piece (15,000 square feet) of heavy duty (36 mil) reinforced polypropylene. It was unrolled and dragged into place by hand, with the help of a skid-steer, by a team of laborers.
The movement was accomplished inch-by-inch by shaking it like a rug to capture air under it. The bottom of the hole was akin to Death Valley in the relentless blazing sun and temperature near-100 degrees.
The black plastic quickly became too hot to handle with bare hands.
And yet the sweating workers deployed it in good humor.
The edges wrap over the sides of the excavation, are trimmed and tucked into a trench, and buried in soil.

And there, finally, was our new farm pond, ready for water.

The very next day high winds threatened to billow the liner into Kansas so I hurriedly began filling it.
Our pond holds about 425,000 gallons (1.3 acre-feet) of water and covers an area of about a third of an acre.
The primary purpose is for irrigation water storage but there’s no rule against swimming!

For more about our pond development see how our peninsula was built!

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