Caution – Lake of Pond Care Could be Hazardous to your Mental Health

By Patrick Simmsgeiger, President
Diversified Waterscapes, Inc.

It’s your body of water; it’ called a lake, a stream, a pond, or a pain. Oftentimes property owners build a pond or lake thinking that because natural lakes and ponds seem to fare well their water feature will also. This idea does not hold true for either body of water.

Every water feature requires attention whether natural or man-made. Look at the Salton Sea, the San Joaquin River or local wetland areas or your lakes, streams, fountains, or ponds. They all experience problems; some problems are seen; some are unseen. Yet, all of these issues need to be addressed. The counties and states are addressing water conditions in their locales. Are your aquatic environments’ troubles being dealt with?

It’s too late to mention the initial design of a water feature being a crucial to proper function as by the time a professional lake maintenance company is consulted it is already done. The features have been completed, filled and the project turned over the Association. Consequently, the features will have to be dealt with as they are and usually cannot be altered. The lake professional accepts this and moves on but may bring it to your attention as the design, or lack thereof, will affect the functionality. Just as man has toyed with nature, man has toyed with his idea of a “natural” water feature.

Example: your water feature has strange, slimy globs of green matter covering the surface. There are huge mats of a bizarre grass are floating up from the bottom. The water is pea soup green. Two pumps have ceased functioning. A large number of fish are either dead or dying. The waterfall has ceased functioning and the one remaining pump is make strong noises. Wow, you’ve been hit with several different problems all at the same time. First, you’re in shock, then you frantically search for “the answer”, then you’re overcome with confusion and frustration. All of the “answers” are different. Your confusion and frustration then morph into anger. Lastly, the realization hits that only one thing rings true. . . this is going to be quite costly to repair.

This example could have two causes. First, there hasn’t been any money in the budget to cover treatment or repairs so the water features and everything that makes them run are dying. Second, after years of having beautiful water features they are inexplicably going bad. Neither one of these causes is unusual.

There are two solutions. The first one is relatively easy but does take some time. Because you have prepared for this in your budget you will authorize your lake maintenance professional to use the additional time needed to treat and remove this alien-like grass. . . Your professional will already have increased their treatment regimen to eradicate the pea soup green water (which is actually algae). You will also approve the removal and subsequent repair or replacement of the pumps and authorize the additional expense for new aeration, fish, and plants. It will take some time, possibly one to two months to restore order. But, it will get done and peace will be restored in the complex. All is good.

The second solution is to remain in frantic mode, scramble to find a reputable lake maintenance company, request bids, conduct an emergency meeting, hire the new company, give notice to the current company and wait for the appropriate time allowed by the contract. The water features get worse with each passing day. The homeowners who have guests arriving want those water features fixed. Complaints abound. The new lake maintenance company comes on board and advises everyone this is going to take time to restore and repair. Some will breathe a sigh of relief and accept their explanation and some will not.

In order to avoid those pitfalls, budget and reserve planning coupled with a regularly scheduled maintenance programs should already be in place. The lake, pond, or stream maintenance provider who implements this program should be a professional. The company should be able to provide proof of experience through verifiable, long-term references. Proof of licenses, permits, general liability, workman’s comp, vehicle insurance and a proven track record should be supplied. Once you find a company with these validated qualifications you should be able to trust their suggestions. Hiring a company with a good reputation and portfolio means you are on the road to fully enjoying your water feature. This does not mean there won’t be problems. This means the problems will be addressed promptly and professionally.

Working in conjunction with the person responsible for the management of a water feature and the board of directors the lake management professional maintains not only the water quality but also brings items that need repair to the attention of the board, usually via the management company. The management company submits the recommendation for repair to the board, which is approved, denied, or tabled. Herein lies what could be another problem.

Many times the board has hired a reputable lake maintenance company yet has not budgeted for repairs or replacements for their water features. They feel there are more important issues than the repair of, say, a pump. “There’s another pump, why do we need to deal with one not functioning?” Rather than consulting with the lake professional a somewhat uninformed decision is then made. This decision could fall under the category of “reserve study” or deferred maintenance”.

The reserve study has been done. The lake maintenance professional was never consulted about repair costs, what is in need of repair or replacement, or what has been repaired or replaced. These costs are never factored into the budget. a pump breaks down, some plants and fish die and the board and/ or management company is scrambling to find the funds as no one realized how much this was going to cost.

Or, the maintenance has been “deferred”, yet the problem still exists. This putting off of repairs is to the detriment of the pumping systems and the water. Here’s an example: one of two pumps is down. The other pump is called to do the work of two. Undue strain is placed on that one operating pump, which results in the pump running too hot and burning out. Now you have two dead pumps. The water feature no longer functions. Fish are dying due to lack of oxygen. Algae are growing everywhere. Aquatic plants are dying. Odors are almost overwhelming. The stagnant water has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Complaints about odors, mosquitoes, West Niles Virus, stagnant unsightly water and algae escalate dramatically. This can affect the value of the homes that border the water. Homeowners are angry and the recipients of their complaints feeling very frustrated.

Before you call upon a lake maintenance professional you must have taken that body of water into consideration. Lake maintenance and a cost to cover repairs or replacements must be included in the budget. Once that is in place you are financially ready to face any problem that may arise.

Too often a lake maintenance company is called in to “fix” what someone else has done. By the time the call is put out the body of water in question has been neglected, over-treated or “killed”. There request is usually “fix it now”. I have bad news, this is NOT going to happen. The true restoration or repair of a water feature involves time and patience. To reestablish the oxygen levels, fish population, aquatic plants and beneficial aquatic weeds and restore water clarity the lake professional may need to up two years. I know, this is a long time and we are an impatient lot, aren’t we? But, regardless of whether this body of water is natural or man-made, patience is needed. It took time to reach the state it is in. It will take time for it to repair.

The proactive solution to this problem is to have a regular maintenance schedule by a professional already in place. Not only will a cry for help not have to be sounded but each problem that develops will be dealt with aggressively and within the framework of that schedule. This is where the good relationship, trust, excellent communication and quick response of your lake professional come in. The lake professional has many means by which they can assist in the process of repair. They have the field service technicians who do the actual work. These technicians know the approaches to take in the treatment and restoration of the water and what to do in the event of a float valve, pump, filter, coupling, fill valve malfunction. Their office personnel are trained to assist in times of trouble, calm, frayed nerves, offer solutions and keep the lines of communication open between the service techs. Homeowners, board members and community managers. They’re able to identify an emergency and know when an immediate response and will already have a proven foundation of trust in place with everyone involved. The office personnel are there to help and see that whatever goes wrong is “fixed”, as are the service technicians. Remember, if you want to keep a lake healthy and balanced, using a professional of good repute, regular maintenance of the aeration, the filtration, the pumps, the aquatic plants, the water, and pest control is vital.

The bottom line: plan for your water feature’s maintenance and repairs by having a budget firmly in place. Hire a lake maintenance company that has a good reputation, is licensed, insured, knowledgeable and experienced. Communicate with that company. Everyone needs to keep those lines of communication open between the board, the management company and the lake maintenance company. Listen to the professionals. They are NOT “out to get you”. They CARE about your water features. They LIKE water features. They WANT to make them beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. They WILL DO all they can to keep those features going because they KNOW what is needed to keep the water fresh, clean, free from algae, and live.

Trust your lake maintenance professional to do the right thing. They are after all, “devoted to the beautification of aquatic environments.”