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Ice Safety 101 | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Ice Safety 101

Ice Safety 101

Ice is fun—but it can be dangerous business.

Winter brings cold weather and snow to your pond or lake, as well as a perfect layer of ice for skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and more. You may want to get out there and play, but it’s important to know whether your ice is safe and strong or a potential hazard.

Here’s how to determine whether the ice on your pond is thick enough and safe for wintertime fun.

1. Check Its Temperature, Formation

After about two to three weeks of freezing temperatures, a solid sheet of ice will begin to form on your pond or lake. But low temps aren’t the only thing that influence ice formation. Water currents, wind and snow coverage will also make a difference in the integrity of the frozen surface. So once the weather and temperatures stabilize after several weeks, you can venture onto the ice and inspect its thickness.

2. Check Surface for Quality

Ice quality matters. When you inspect the ice, you can visually gauge its quality by looking for bubbles, trapped snow and cracks. You can also determine its quality by color, as a solid blue ice sheet is much stronger than a white brittle layer, which is caused by air pockets and other flaws. Of course, new ice is stronger than old ice, too, as temperature fluctuations haven’t thawed and refrozen the ice, which can weaken its integrity.

In addition, if you’ve left your aeration system running while the ice has been forming, the ice layer will have air pockets—and be unsafe for winter recreation.

3. Verify Its Thickness

You’ve given the water time to freeze and the ice time to form, and you’ve ensured the quality of the ice sheet’s surface. The next step is to verify its thickness. You can either drill or cut samples—but make sure you do so in multiple locations as you work your way toward the center of the pond as the water won’t necessarily freeze evenly.

In general, a layer of ice less than 3 inches is too thin for most people to walk out on. It may be able to hold up lighter people or small animals but can easily crack. So if you plan to have a group of people on the pond or want to take your snowmobile out on your lake, an ice formation of 6 to 8 inches minimum is ideal.

4. Be Patient, Stay Safe

Winter recreation on an ice-covered pond is fun—but be patient and use extreme caution when venturing on the ice. Take time to inspect the ice quality and take samples because doing so can make all the difference between a blast and a disaster.

Always make sure you have a life ring or floatation device within reach in case someone accidentally falls through the ice. And always use common sense when venturing out—better to be safe than sorry!

Pond Talk: What is your favorite wintertime activity on your frozen lake or pond?

Promote Pond Safety

How do I create the perfect hockey or skating rink? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

How do I create the perfect hockey or skating rink?

Q: How do I create the perfect hockey or skating rink?

Chris – Gardners, PA

A: One of the many benefits of having a lake is inviting friends and family over for fun water-related activities—including ice skating or hockey scrimmages during the wintertime. Here are some simple four-step instructions for how to create a nearly NHL-ready rink on your pond.

  1. First, using a pond rake and some weed cutters, remove dead floating debris, such as dead cattails and Phragmites. If those are on the water’s surface or along the lake’s edges as the ice forms, you could wind up with bumpy or weak ice.
  2. Next, if you haven’t done so already, turn off and remove the aeration system from your lake. If you keep it running while the ice forms, that could result in uneven ice formation—and that can be a dangerous situation for skaters.
  3. Once snow begins to fall, regularly remove the snow from the ice with a snow shovel before nightfall so the lake freezes evenly. Make sure, however, that the pond ice is at least 4 inches deep before walking on it.
  4. On a calm night so the water stays still, use your thermostatically controlled
    K&H™ PVC ThermoHose™ to flood the rink area with a thin layer of water to fill in any gaps. By the next morning—weather permitting—the new ice layer should be frozen and the rink ready to enjoy!

Remember to practice water and ice safety by having a life ring available in case of emergency, and by marking the acceptable rink area, particularly if you are using just a portion of a much larger body of water.

Sharpen your blades, pull on your skates—and have fun!

Pond Talk: What’s your favorite activity on an ice-covered pond?

Create A Smooth Skating Surface

What should I do if I have a power outage over the winter and my aeration stops? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

What should I do if I have a power outage over the winter and my aeration stops?

Q: What should I do if I have a power outage over the winter and my aeration stops?

Johnny – Point Marion, PA

A: Power outages happen. Whether they’re caused by Mother Nature, like hurricane Sandy, or the result of an accident or a blown transformer, chances are pretty good that you’ll contend with at least one lights-out experience this winter—but your chandelier won’t be the only thing not electrified.

Out in your lake or water garden, your aeration system will also shut down when the electricity stops. No aeration for an extended period of time means your pond’s water quality could suffer and your fishes’ health could be compromised.

Don’t worry: If you’re prepared, a power outage won’t be a big deal at all. Here’s what you need to know.

Your Fish will be Fine …

As long as the water temperature remains cold and your pond is relatively free of dead or decomposing debris, your fish will survive the power outage without even blinking an eye.

Thanks to one of the many unique properties of water, cold water retains more dissolved oxygen than warm water. “Think about how much bubblier a cold soda is compared to a warm one,” describes the United States Geological Survey. “The cold soda can keep more of the carbon dioxide bubbles dissolved in the liquid than the warm one can, which makes it seem fizzier when you drink it.”

It’s the same thing with oxygen. Colder water molecules are more densely packed and can therefore hold more oxygen, which your fish and other pond inhabitants need to survive.

In addition, the pond should not have a lot of dead or decomposing materials, like leaves and plant matter. All that breaking-down vegetation depletes the water of oxygen while imbuing it with harmful toxic gases like ammonia.

Bottom line: If your water is cold and your pond is clean when the power goes out, your finned friends will be just fine, short-term.

Service & Protect Your Aerator

After the power is restored and the candles are blown out, plan to head out to your aeration system and assess the situation. Any built-up air pressure could prevent the aerator from turning back on, so you’ll need to relieve the air pressure by pulling the relief valve or disconnecting the airline before you turn the system back on again. In addition, condensation could form on the motor, which will need to be wiped down to prevent rust from forming.

To protect your aerator from the elements—which could cause an isolated power outage in your pond or lake—make sure it’s protected. Larger units, such as those for ponds and lakes, should be in a cabinet; smaller units, such as those for water gardens, should be hidden within a faux rock, like the Pond Logic® TruRock™ Small Boulder Cover. It’s designed to blend into the landscape while protecting pond equipment.

Pond Talk: In case of long-term power outage, would you ever use a generator to power your aerator? Why or why not?

Protect Your Aeration Units - Pond Logic® PondAir™ & TrueRock™ Combo

Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side?

Q: Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side?

Adam – Locust Valley, NY

A: Though it would be nice to have the best of both worlds, a pond that’s aerated with diffuser plates is not safe for ice skating. Here’s why:

The reason you run a diffuser through the winter is to aerate the pond and move the water surface to maintain a hole in the ice, allowing for gas exchange. This ensures the water in your lake is well-circulated and your game fish and other underwater inhabitants have enough oxygen to get them through the cold season.

The trouble is that the ice that forms on the surface of water that has been moving for even a short time can be porous and not suitable for skating. Even movement on one end of the lake and not the other can make the ice at the edges unsafe.

If you want to use your pond for skating, plan in advance. Before the ice forms:

  1. Shut your aeration system down completely. It’s critical to do this before the ice starts to build on your pond’s or lake’s surface for the safety of those who will skate on the pond.
  2. Stow components away. Your airline and plate may stay in the pond, but the system’s cabinet and compressor should be stored indoors to prevent condensation and rusting.
  3. Have an emergency plan, just in case. While you’re prepping your lake for ice skating fun, now’s a good time to make sure you have water safety items available, too, like a Taylor Made Life Ring. If the ice breaks, a safety preserver like this can save someone’s life.

Even if ice skating isn’t your thing, it’s still important to follow this all-or-nothing aeration strategy. Running your system “part time” could cause condensation in the unit from the hot compressor cooling, causing rust to form. It could also allow moisture to get into the airline, which could then freeze.

Bottom line: If you plan on skating on your lake or running your aeration system “part time” for whatever reason, it’s best to shut it down completely. Otherwise, keep it running all season to ensure good water quality for your fishes.

Pond Talk: What’s your favorite wintertime activity at your pond or lake?

Promote Pond Safety - Taylor Made Life Rings

Is there anything I can do to prevent animals from chewing my fountain power cord? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Is there anything I can do to prevent animals from chewing my fountain power cord?

Q: Is there anything I can do to prevent animals from chewing my fountain power cord?

Barbara – Little Falls, NJ

A: Surprise, surprise! You’re doing your winter-prep chores and, lo and behold, you discover that a tiny interloper has been gnawing at your fountain’s power cord. Just about aquatic or semi-aquatic animal that can chew or break something open with its mouth could be the culprit—but most likely, your cord chewer is none other than the muskrat.

Muskrat Love

Muskrats, semi-aquatic rodents that are native to North America, live in wetlands over a wide range of climates and habitats (including your pond or lake). They measure 16 to 28 inches long—with almost half of that being their flattened, scale-covered tail—and weigh between 1½ to 4½ pounds. They’re double-coated in short, thick, medium to dark brown or black fur that insulates them from chilly water.

These furry little critters love to spend time submerged. Because they are less sensitive to carbon dioxide buildup that other mammals, they can stay under water for 12 to 17 minutes before they need to come up for air—giving them plenty of time to do damage to your power cords.

Born to Chew

As rodents, muskets must chew and gnaw on things to wear down their continuously growing incisors. In wild lakes and water bodies, they grind on cattails and other aquatic vegetation, along with the occasional crayfish, turtle and frog for sustenance.

In human-made lakes and ponds, however, muskrats also chew on cords, preferring the parts near a fountain’s motor or where it exits the pond. No one knows why muskrats like to sink their teeth into electrical cords, but they do. So what do you do?

Wrap It Up

To prevent muskrats and other water-dwelling chewers from damaging your fountain’s power cord, invest in some power cord wrapping (also called rat cord). This woven material limits or prevents animals from chewing through the cord’s plastic sheathing.

Now, while your fountain is pulled out of your lake or pond for the winter season, is the perfect time of year to cover your power cord in this protective material. A little maintenance and prevention will go a long way to stop those interlopers from damaging your equipment.

Pond Talk: What do you do to prevent muskrats and other semi-aquatic critters from moving into your pond or lake?

Remove Unwanted Guests - Tomahawk Live Traps

Do turtles burrow in the ground for winter? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Do turtles burrow in the ground for winter?

Q: Do turtles burrow in the ground for winter?

Lewis – Lincoln, VT

A: One of the oldest reptile groups on planet earth, cold-blooded turtles are distinguished by a bony shell that acts like a super-powerful shield to protect them from predators. Like birds and reptiles, turtles lay their eggs on land and breathe air—but they can spend long periods of time underwater, surfacing at regular intervals to fill their lungs with oxygen.

These terrapins do a great job taking care of themselves (and have been for the past 200 million years!), but if you have turtles in your pond or lake, you can be a gracious host by understanding some basic facts about them.

Wintertime Signs

They don’t use a calendar, but turtles know when it’s time to cozy down for the winter. They use the air and water temperature as a gauge, which triggers their instinctual behavioral and physiological hibernation. Typically, this happens when temperatures reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit or so.

Holing Up for the Season

Though they carry a home-sweet-home on their backs, certain types of turtles do hole up for the winter season—literally. Depending on the turtle type, some species, like box turtles, will burrow in the sediment in the bottom of your pond and hibernate for the winter, while others will swim to lower pond levels to escape ice cover. This innate behavior keeps them safe, in most cases, until temperatures warm again.

Slowed Metabolism, No Appetite

Like fishes and other cold-blooded critters, turtles’ metabolisms slow when temperatures get cold. This physiological change means that they require very little oxygen and food. In fact, their hearts will slow to just a few beats every few minutes! They are also able to take in miniscule amounts of oxygen through specialized skin cells.

Privacy, Please

To keep your turtles under cover and safe from predators during the long winter, you can add some pond dye, like Pond Logic® Pond Dye, to your pond. The blue or black coloring not only camouflages the turtles, but it also shades the pond, eliminates cloudy water, and cuts down on excess nutrients and odor.

Pond Talk: What do you do to support the turtle population in your lake or pond?

Shade & Protect Your Pond - Pond Logic® Pond Dye

Is it too cold to treat my pond with the ClearPAC®? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Is it too cold to treat my pond with the ClearPAC®?

Q: Is it too cold to treat my pond with the ClearPAC®?

Karen – Goshen, IN

A: Pond Logic® ClearPAC® combines PondClear™, Algae Defense®, EcoBoost™ and Nature’s Blue™ Pond Dye to combat algae and suspended debris in your lake or pond. Some components of this super-pack have temperature limitations while others can be used year-round. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

PondClear™

Beneficial bacteria that break down muck and suspended debris, such as those found in PondClear™ and MuckAway™, can be used until water temperatures drop to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or so. Though that temperature is not a definitive cut-off point, the bacteria will become less effective due to unfavorable conditions. Bottom line: When your thermometer dips below 50 degrees, hold off until the water warms again.

Algae Defense®

This algae-destroyer can be used to treat troublesome floating filamentous algae, bottom growing chara or the planktonic algae as long as it’s green and growing, and the water temperature in your pond or lake is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s lower than that, hold off until spring.

EcoBoost™

EcoBoost™, which is a bacteria booster rather than an actual bacteria, has no temperature restrictions so it can be used year-round to bind phosphates that find their way into your pond or lake. You can use EcoBoost™ throughout the winter to give you a head start on next season.

Pond Dye

The final ingredient in Pond Logic® ClearPAC®, Pond Dye in blue, twilight or black is not temperature-sensitive, so it can be used year-round to give your pond or lake that aesthetic appeal throughout the winter months. And if it’s getting too chilly to stand by your pond pouring in a quart of dye, try Pond Dye Packets—all you do is toss the water-soluble packet into the water and head back to your warm and toasty home!

Pond Talk: Why do you use pond dye in your pond or lake?

Enhance Water Clarity - Pond Logic® EcoBoost™

What Is A Winter Fish Kill & Why Do They Happen? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

What Is A Winter Fish Kill & Why Do They Happen?I’ve heard the term “winter fish kill.” What is it and why does it happen?

Linda - Stockbridge, MI

A winter fish kill occurs when your pond or lake becomes uninhabitable for aquatic life and a large number of fish pass away. Winter is the most common time for a fish kill because the long, harsh conditions of the season deplete the oxygen content of the water.

Prolonged ice cover on your pond or lake seals off the water from the air and prevents oxygenation of the water. Ice and snow cover also prevent sunlight from reaching your pond plants. Pond plants normally produce extra oxygen for your pond via photosynthesis. Finally, decomposing organic matter in your pond releases toxic gases that can’t escape from under the ice.

Eventually the competition for the limited supply of oxygen in the pond becomes too great. The fish suffocate and a winter fish kill occurs.

The good news is that winter fish kills are preventable. There are many things you can do as a pond and lake owner to maintain proper oxygen levels in your pond. First and foremost, invest in a good Aeration System. Aeration is the process of circulating air through water and it’s critical for overall pond health.  A second option is to add beneficial bacteria products like MuckAway™ or PondClear™ to your pond or lake before the winter season. Beneficial bacteria digest accumulated decomposing organic matter in your pond and convert it to a harmless, odorless gas.

Pond Talk: What fish behavior may indicate low oxygen levels in your pond?

Airmax Aeration Systems

Q&A: Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?

Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?

Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?
Nicki – Sandusky, OH

Winter brings not only cold weather and snow to your pond or lake but a perfect layer of ice for skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and other fun as well. While you may be eager to get out on the ice this season, it is important that you know how to distinguish the difference between safe strong ice and a potential hazard.

There are a lot of different factors that determine the ice thickness on a water body. Temperature has a large part in ice formation of course but water currents, wind and snow coverage also play a role in how water freezes. You should see a satisfactory layer of ice form on your pond after two to three weeks of freezing temperatures. Once temperatures stabilize and the ice has time to thicken you can venture onto the surface and perform an inspection.

You can visually determine the quality of ice by looking for bubbles, trapped snow, cracks and color. A clear solid blue layer of ice is stronger than a white brittle formation caused by air pockets and other flaws. Keep in mind that a pond with a running aeration system will have air pockets and should not be used for recreation in the winter. Naturally new ice is stronger than old ice as there are less chances of warm weather thawing and re-freezing. Once you have inspected the surface of the ice you can drill or cut samples to verify thickness. Since a water body will not always freeze evenly you will want to take samples in multiple locations as you work your way out towards the center. A layer of ice less than 3 inches is unsatisfactory for most people to walk out onto. It may be able to hold up lighter people or small animals but can easily crack. If you plan on having a group of people on the pond or want to take your snowmobile out on your lake an ice formation of 6-8 inches minimum is ideal. Click over to our blog on Ice Formation for more information regarding ice thickness and formation.

Be patient this winter and exercise extreme caution when venturing onto the ice. Taking the extra time out to visually inspect your ice and take samples can mean all the difference between a fun day outdoors or potential injury. Always make sure there is a floatation device within reach in case of a fall-through and always use common sense when venturing out on the ice.

Pond Talk: How do you determine when it is safe to venture out onto your pond or lake in the winter?

keep your pond safe at all times with a life ring!

My pond isn’t frozen yet, but I can’t see my fish. Are they okay? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

My pond isn’t frozen yet, but I can’t see my fish. Are they okay?

My pond isn’t frozen yet, but I can’t see my fish. Are they okay?
Stephanie – Harpursville, NY

Fish are survivors. And when the water starts getting cold, they head for deeper waters, where the chilling effects of winter air are less pronounced. Provided there’s adequate aeration, your fish will likely linger at the bottom throughout the colder months. As a result, they’ll be much less visible – but the odds are extremely good they’re doing just fine.

In order to ensure there’s sufficient oxygen for the winter, some people opt to keep their aeration systems active all year ‘round. At the very least, though, it’s important to maintain a vent hole when – or if – your pond ices over. The vent hole allows harmful decomposition gases to escape, allowing fish to winter safely. And because their metabolism slows during the winter months, a properly vented pond will likely have sufficient oxygen to ensure the survival of your fish until springtime.

Fish, it turns out, are extremely resilient. After wintering in the lower reaches of your pond, your fish will gradually return to the upper levels once water temperatures start to rise. In general, it’s probably a good sign when fish become less visible. If they’re struggling, it’s far more likely you’d see them at the edges of your pond. So while you might miss them, your invisible fish are probably doing just fine.

Pond Talk: Have you noticed less fish movement in your pond recently?

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