Building a Pond

It goes without saying that many pond owners wishes he/she had built their pond bigger. That, along with keeping the algae at bay, is the biggest complaint of pond owners. And that is part of the reason we decided to create such a large water feature and the other reason is … we finally had the space to do so.
I enjoy sitting by our pond and beach listening and watching the water cascading down the limestone waterfall.
When designing the ponds I used the same method as designing our flowerbeds: I first sprayed the ground using our secret… contractor spray paint. To be exact, we use Krylon Contractor Marking Paint in the color orange. No reason for that color choice other than we like it and the color stands out.

Before you start digging a pond (or calling the utilities), ask yourself the question… will I be able do the upkeep… no matter what the size. Because we first outlined our ponds, we realized that we needed to scale down the size of our large pond by a few feet in length prior to digging. The larger size would have been unmanageable. By the way, if your plans are less extensive, you can also use a garden hose or a thick rope. Just don’t use heavy string. Birds consider it nesting material.

Digging the Pond

Rent a bobcat if your pond is on the larger side. This saves a lot of time a back breaking labor. The dug up ‘dirt’ was used to make the island flowerbed. Can you see the orange outline? (I called the utilities prior to digging…no underground issues.)  Once the initial digging was completed, the rest of the pond (both the large and smaller pond) and stream was dug out and shaped by hand.
We had heard that in Europe many people are building swimming ponds. As well, many homeowners are turning their unwanted swimming pools into garden ponds. Not that we wanted to swim in our pond, well…maybe, it certainly was going to be large enough! This year we are using our pond, not for actual swimming, but we do use it on a hot day for floating and cooling off.

Pond Liners

Most pond builders whether they be home owners or professionals use the EPDM koi-pond-near-chicagorubber (ethylene propylene diene Monomer) liner. Since we had such a large area to cover (building a pond x 2 and a stream), we decided to use an aboveground pool liner for economic reasons. After all, pool liners should and need to be be just as long living and durable. Also, many lay the EPDM rubber for protection against the sun’s UV rays…this makes sense, however our pool liner is entirely covered with river rock and therefore no exposure to the sun’s harmful rays.
I scouted the distributors and discovered that many have off size or pool liners that were returned because of inaccurate measuring. Our liner, a 30 gauge, was sold to us at a deep discount.

Ground Preparation

Prior to any excavating, please check with your local utilities as to the location of underground wiring, gas pipes, telephone, cable etc. on your property. The old adage ‘Call Before You Dig’ must be adhered to. Once the pond area had been excavated, we made sure that all sharp objects, tree roots, stones ect were removed and the area raked. I am a firm believer in using up our old newspapers in our landscaping projects (optional) such as this pond building or instead of landscaping fabric on paths. We placed sheets of newspapers, at least 8 sheets thick, down on the ground. And yes, we realize that newspaper will deteriorate over time. That is why we also completed the next two steps. Next we put down a layer of sand on top of the newspapers. Again, some would omit this step.
Lastly, prior to the liner, we laid 4 sheets thick of 6 mil poly vapor barrier giving us 24 mil of protection between the ground any unforeseen issues that could still move up from below the ground. You can also use an old synthetic carpet minus the staples and tacks.

Installing the Liner

Even though the pool liner we purchased was large, we still needed to mate two pieces together. We did this with a product called Etern-A-Bond. I have read on many pond web sites a warning of not to use pond tape as the pond tape will pull apart causing leakage. The Etern-A-Bond is NOT a pond tape but rather a product that is used primarily in the roofing industry to stop leaks.
The exact tape is called Double Stick and once two pieces of pool liner are joined with this tape and hand rolled, there’s no getting them apart or leaking. I have also included a video presentation regarding the product. This is by far the best ‘no leak’ tape on the market. Another note: We made sure that the pond liner size would give us two feet of coping around the pond’s edge in case of an over-flow.

River Rock and Boulders

Finally, we filled the pond with river rock/stone of different sizes. We purchased larger boulders for around the edge of the pond. Once the river rock was in place, I was anxious to add the water. Even though we were filling 2 large bodies of water, we used our garden hose and not a water truck. As usual the dust on the stones required settling (makes the water cloudy).
For the first year, we added only a blue tint. The second year, we added the Polidex commercial algaecide (if we were to add fish to our pond, we would speak to our algaecide specialist regarding a proper mixture safe for fish) and the True Blue coloring to the water. As of the 2010 gardening year, we no longer use the algaecide. We chlorinate the water and still use the tinting. If you have fish, the tinting will not harm fish or humans if used as instructed. In fact, tinting helps reduce algae from forming. Most pond builders will tell you to make sure that your pond is at least 80% covered by pond plants or shade as the sun’s rays, along with the waste from the fish, will help the algae grow. We do not have fish (we have raccoons instead) or pond plants in the water ergo, we chlorinate our water and use our pond as a dunking pond. We do have pond plantings along the pond’s edge and natural grasses are growing up between the larger river rocks.


All and all, the project went very smoothly with no major issues, just a sore back from carrying all of the stones! Obviously, the products and procedures we used can be replicated for a smaller pond. It works!
I am leaving the information regarding the smaller filter in place, as it will benefit those with less water capacity. To understand the entire process of beneficial bacteria and pond filtration, a great site to visit is MacArthur Water Gardens.
Below I discuss a method of filtration (very simplistic and it works for smaller ponds), but there are dozens and dozens of filtering methods. I recommend that everyone do the research, ask the questions and purchase a system knowing that you understand it, that you can take care of it and most importantly, it will handle your water volume.
When we used the smaller filter box we placed it in the smaller pond. We built our water feature with the forethought of having a water current system. We accomplished this with the help of a forceful waterfall (10 feet high and 3 feet across) and the fact that the larger pond is at a slightly higher level than the smaller pond. Thus the stream (that connects the two ponds) level slowly decreases and then levels off when reaching the smaller pond.
While we are no longer using this smaller filter box, the method of the water moving toward the stream from the force of the waterfall and flowing down into the smaller pond remains the same. The only difference now is that we have a larger filtration system in place in the smaller pond. The water enters our new system just as it entered the smaller filter box.

Filter Box

The pre-filter step: water enters basket where leaves, debris and dirt are trapped
The basket is lined with a filter called Top Box (it is actually a washable thin furnace filter). Take out the basket once a week and empty it of debris. Also, use the garden hose to spray the filter clean and then replace. Having a good pre-filter means you do not have to disturb the bio-filter section behind the basket. The pre-filter starts the filtration process by trapping the smaller dirt particles, which helps with the water flow
Once through the pre-filter, the water goes through the bio-filter section, which is two filter media mats of different densities, one coarse, one fine
Prior to exiting via two side outlets, the water rushes through the bio-media stones (in mesh bags). The stones helps colonize and hold onto the beneficial bacteria. You do not need to clean these stones. The bio-media stones and mesh bags are purchased separately.
The pre-filter is cleaned with the garden hose and the bio-filters are checked and lightly rinsed (if needed…good bacteria grows in the bio-filters as well). Have you heard of Islandscapes? See video below:

Well, it seems that Islandscapes is going to be one of the biggest new waves for water gardeners. Can you imagine ‘floating gardens’ in your pond? Check out this web site for additional information and have a look at their page. There are several sizes and styles of island water gardening to choose from…I know I am.
Most ponds have a catch basin at the top. The water collects until full and then cascades down to form a waterfall. We do not have a catch basin at the top of our waterfall.

With our waterfall, the tubing runs underground from the small pond (50ft.) to the back of the large pond, then runs up the back of the waterfall until it reaches the top platform. The only outstanding project for the waterfall is purchasing a large piece of slate to cover the rubber liner on the platform.
Because we wanted a wide waterfall (36″), we decided to construct our own platform. Also, it was difficult to find a ready-made formed waterfall in such a width unless we asked to have one custom made which is expensive.
As well, we decided to make a few changes. Since we knew that our pump was adequate for the size of the ponds and waterfall, we had to make sure that the tubing size running from the smaller pond, which houses the water intake, to the height of the waterfall (10ft.) was large enough in diameter to support the outflow of water.
By the way, there is a formula to use when operating a waterfall. Please click on this link  to calculate. This site offers great information for pond calculation.
Unfortunately our error was the size of tubing. We were using 1 1/2″ tubing when we should have had 2″ tubing. Ergo, not enough water volume flowing to the bigger pond and up to the waterfall platform.
We changed the tubing size to 2″, buried the tubing.
Our pump sits inside a special pump house built behind the waterfall with pressure treated wood.


We use the Etern-A-Bond Package. This fantastic product can be used to water proof anything from roof eaves t to pool liners.
The backing is course very sticky, so be careful. Once it is on…it’s on for good! It can be cut with an sharp utility blade knife.
If you would like further information about Etern-A-Bond and its use, please watch the short video below. In this video he discusses using Etern-A-Bond for roofing, but just think of the other applications you can use. (ie: ponds, waterfalls). Click here for distribution locations.

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