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My water is brown, what should I do? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q&A

My water is brown. What should I do?

My water is brown. What should I do?
Andrew – Memphis, TN

Before we can answer that question, you’ll have to do some sleuthing. Why? Because water that looks brown many not actually be brown. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to figure it out – and there are simple ways to clear up the issue – regardless how the test turns out.

The test, of course, is highly scientific, so pay careful attention to the following steps:

Get a clear glass from your kitchen cabinet.
Take the glass to your pond, and scoop it full of pond water.
Look at the water in the glass.

Whew. Good work. Now that you’ve completed the heavy lifting, consider the water you’re observing. If it’s clear, you’ve learned that the brown you’re seeing is nothing more than the decaying leaves and debris at the bottom of your pond. To remedy that problem, you’ll want to introduce the natural bacteria in Pond Logic® Muck Defense® and Pond Logic® Nature Defense® to your pond. These safe, hungry and beneficial bacteria will expedite the breakdown of pond bottom debris, leaving the bottom of your pond as clean as your water is clear.

If, however, the contents of your glass are brown, you’re facing a high concentration of tannins, which are released into pond water by decomposing leaves. Fortunately, our Pond Logic® Activated Carbon does a terrific job of absorbing pesky tannins, leaving your water crystal clear. Simply place Activated Carbon in a mesh bag close to a high-flow area (like a skimmer or a waterfall), and wait for it to absorb the offending discoloration.

When the water clears, you might just find that the tannin-rich water has been hiding a collection of leaves and debris at the pond bottom. But with a dose of Muck Defense or Nature Defense, you’ll have things cleared up in no time at all.

Pond Talk: Have you noticed brown water forming in your pond?

Activated Carbon

24 Responses

  1. thank you I’ll try rapid clear or clear clarity

  2. I have brown water in my pond too, my pond flows into a stream then goes to a waterfall into the pond. I dont have leaves at the bottom of the pond, its just a little pond. I dont know why the water is brown. There are some leaves but when I notice them I take them out.

  3. I’m just starting an above ground galvanized pond. I have a lot of brown slimy stuff in the bottom. I put in a filter/pump and added correct amount of pond-zyme…will this get rid of the problem and how long does it take. Also, will this require me to clean my pump/filter right away….I’m new to all this. thanks, Lisa

    • Hi Lisa – Anything that is brown in the bottom other than actual sand or dirt should decompose. Sand, clay type particles would need to be physically removed. How long it will take be be removed depends on how much is there, just continue with dosage as recommended. Added debris may also require a little more frequent cleaning of your filter but ultimately as the debris is reduced and the more established the filter is, the better the results and less cleaning required.

  4. Is this tannin harmful to fish? I have taken pond plants and lillies out and given them a ‘haircut’ to remove dying back folliage. There doesn’t appear to be a lot sludge in the bottom of the pond. Would be graeful to receive some advice.

    • Hi Gillian – Your fish shouldn’t be harmed it just makes the pond water brown which is not aesthetically appealing. It sounds like you are on track for fall so just keep out as many leaves as possible and you will be fine.

  5. Hi,

    My pond is about 2,500 litres and the water is the colour of tea without milk. I’ve tested the water and results OK. There’s a small amount of sludge in the bottom that I’m trying to deal with, can’t afford a vacuum.

    I can only see down about 4 inches and my plants look weedy.
    There are 5 small koi in there with a terminal case of shyness that I don’t see.

    Q: What else should I do about water clarity?
    Q: Why are the fish hiding?

    Love some help

    • Hi Helen – Brown water is usually caused by leaves releasing tannins in the water or the pond may look brown from the reflection of debris on the rocks. I would get a clear glass and scoop some of your water out. If the water itself looks brown I would use activated carbon to help remove the discoloration. If the water is clear then use Muck Defense or ClarityMax to help clean up the debris in the pond. If the koi are new or you are not routinely feeding them it is common for them to not be as visible.

  6. I have a pond which is approximately 1/2 acre in size. When it was built, in 1995, its depth was 15 feet at the center. It is a somewhat half circle shape.
    I noticed the ice on my pond this January, 2016, has long brown streaks on the surface. I do have 5 grass carp living in the pond.
    What would be causing the brown streaks?
    Would it be the same problem you mentioned with the leaves?
    Thank you.

    • Hi Joseph – The brown streaks could be from several sources. Do they occur only around the pond’s edges? If so it may be from stirred up debris or leaves. It may also be possible that some pond scum or algae has formed in certain areas. If you have a picture of it you can send it along and we could take a look.

      • Hi Kathy
        I would like to send a picture along to you but right now we are having heavy snows in my area and the pond ice is covered right now. Hopefully I can get a picture of it before it thaws out.

      • We will keep an eye out for it!

  7. Hi I have a 1/2 acre pond on my property and It is over run by anacharis it is killing my fish and my ducks are unable to swim anymore . I need to kill it all without harming my ducks or the fish and turtles and frogs . I did not put the plant there to begin with and when we bought the property there was much of it but now the whole pond is covered and I need it gone . If anyone could help that would be great and very much appreciated

    • Hi Monique – Are you sure it’s anacharis? That is typically not a weed we see. For identification, please send a photo of the weed to weedid@thepondguy.com. We also need to know the state where you are.

      If you live in state that allows chemical application, there are several options we can take. Because it has overtaken the pond, a fish kill is possible once the weed begins to die off. We’ll be able to provide a little more insight via email once we can verify the weed and know your location.

  8. Hi. I have a large pond with a waterfall that is relatively new. That is to say it has been here for 10 years, but it turned into a complete swamp with previous owners. We just bought the house and had the pond completely cleaned out down to the liner, including pressure washing all the rocks, and started afresh with all new water and a new pump. It ran crystal clear and beautiful for about two weeks, and then suddenly this week it turned brown and I couldn’t see the bottom. The jar test shows clear water. But there are no leaves at the bottom, no trees or plants anywhere around, and the only things that have been introduced into the pond or handful of very small goldfish and a few aquatic plants such as water lilies. What could be causing the bottom to be so brown after only a couple of weeks that I can’t see more than an inch or two down from the surface?

    Note: I have also added beneficial bacteria as per the directions, and two days ago I added some pond hydrogen peroxide after being told it might be an algae bloom. Even though it hasn’t cleared the water up, I can see an inch or two down in the water now. And I have noticed small brownish residue all over the rocks. Is this what is coating the entire pond bottom? What is it? Is it related to the fish, the plants, or something I have added to the water? Or something else completely?? I don’t know where to go from here. Thanks!

    • Hi Arianne – The brown debris on layering on the rocks is most likely dead debris and would eventually be broken down by your bacteria applications. The brown color of the pond may be from a few different sources. If the water is clear when in a jar but looks dark in the pond is may be the brown debris reflecting in the water causing it to appear dark. Another possibility is if you recently added new mulch near the pond and had rain. Fresh mulch or similar material can leech color into the water and give it a brown appearance though the color of the water itself should appear a brown tint. I would continue the natural bacteria applications and you may also want to use Clarity Defense or Rapid Clear to help bind phosphates or settle suspended debris in the water.

      • Thank you! The bacteria stuff I’m using is called Pond Flush. I got it at the local pond store. It says to add 2 oz (for my size pond) 1x a week. But I’ve seen other bacteria additive here and on other websites. Is what I’m using OK? Should I add more if I have a lot of dead algea at the bottom that is causing the brown look? Is there a better product for faster removal? Should I skip that and do a pond vac or a filter? I don’t currently have one. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

      • Hi Arianne – If you do not have a filter for the pond I would definitely consider adding one, especially with the fish. If you have vacuum I would go ahead and cleanup as much of the debris that you can now and then let your natural bacteria work on what is left. I’m not familiar with Pond Flush but if it is designed to breakdown debris in the pond you can finish using that up. Here are some links to natural bacteria and filtration systems. You can always give us a call at 866-766-3435 with your pond dimensions and we can help you select the products best suited for your pond.

  9. I have just had this happen with the start of spring.All the debris from pollen and buds has been falling in the pond especially these brown “cases” about 3/4 of an inch.Not sure what caused it ,there are so many factors when getting a pond ready in the spring.Have no idea what to do or how to treat it.I am worried about all my goldfish.I live in NC.Thank you.

    • Hi Ann- Pollen generally won’t cause harm to the pond just give it an unsightly appearance. If the “cases” fall straight to the bottom and are not collected by a skimmer then physical remove such as a net or vacuum may be needed if they become a nuisance. Here is an article regarding Spring Cleanouts (full cleanouts and quick fix light cleaning). If the water is turning brown than some activated carbon may be all you need to remove the discoloration.

      • I was so worried about my fish I went outside and just emptied it all out and started anew.The fish seemed fine,there was no smell ,and when I did the sample in a glass it looked clear not muddy.In the pond it was so dark I could not see the bottom(2 ft).All I found was the a coating on the things in the pond and a bunch of dead Anacharis on the bottom.I would still like to know the cause in case it comes back .Thank you for your response,Ann

      • Hi Ann- I’m not sure what the cases are from but if the water is clear in a glass and only dark when you look into the pond, than chances are the darkness is just coming from the reflection of the dead Anacharis and other debris on the rocks which causes the pond to look dark.

  10. i live in indianapolis indiana ,what water plants will survive during the winter months in the pond. i know i will have to cut them back

    • Hi Kim,

      Plants with a zone hardiness around zone 5 will be considered hardy for your area. Many sedges, grasses and lilies will fall into this category. Floating plants such as hyacint and lettuce will need to be removed and purchsed again next year.

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