Pond Construction Costs and Pond Building Cost

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Technical Frequently Asked Questions

ponds by Biologists

Here are a few "mud 'n guts" answers to many of the questions we receive.


How much does it cost to build a pond or lake?

Our biologists use these figures to budget pond or lake building projects. To excavate dirt to build or dig a pond, expect to pay roughly $2.50 per cubic yard of soil dug out of the pond. Figure $1.50 - $3.50 per yard depending on the difficulty of excavation. Local market conditions may make digging more or less costly than this price range. Very small ponds cost more because smaller, slower equipment is required. Of course the volume of material to be moved will be entirely dictated by the habitat design. Because of this, we do not estimate without knowledge of the specific project. Lake and pond excavation costs can be lower in rural areas and significantly higher in more urban settings.

If there is one lesson to be learned from this website, it is this...

A pond is very much more than a hole in the ground that collects water. After calculating a rough pond excavation budget, now double the pond construction budget due to the cost of dredging and re-digging the pond in ten to twenty years or sooner due to a poor pond design. That is the usual fate of most ponds because the majority of ponds are dug in poor locations with no real design. After all that doubling of expense the pond will still suffer the same fate if a better plan is not employed. Paying for two low quality ponds is not a good investment. This is also the reason many people scour the internet looking for pond and lake restoration help. Ironically most of the online advice will point the would-be lake owner straight back to the same exact mistakes. Internet forums are infamous for perpetuating bad information from people with little experience. That same inexperience leads to omitting basic elements to a lake such as creating a tight seal in the lake/pond, or addressing pond siltation which is one of the top reasons for failure. When very low pond construction estimates are seen online they are most always coming from people inexperienced in building lakes and ponds. As we are often quoted... "cheap advice, build it twice."© It is a simple point to ponder. A good exercise before committing to anyone is to ask them how this pond or lake will look in fifty years. If they have difficulty answering, the answer may not be the right one. Not only will a poorly designed pond fail after a decade or two, they also require much more maintenance expense and headaches. These are basic reasons to invest in quality versus short-term expense. It is also a reason people invest in our services to inspect and evaluate waterfront and lake property before they purchase.

If the land needs to be cleared of trees and stumps, expect to pay at least several thousand dollars per acre for clearing plus disposal. Of course some sites include valuable timber which will reduce this estimate. Meadows become a more efficient pond location due to this factor and a minimal amount of leaf litter falling in the lake.

If soils and debris have to be removed from the site expect to pay several dollars per cubic yard to truck the soil to another location. It is always best to have a plan to use excavated soils somewhere near the lake or pond. Removing soils from a site can become very expensive. This is particularly true of more urban areas.

The most cost effective sites for pond construction often have gently sloping topography. Ideally, this would be in a low area, safe from flooding, with roughly ten feet of elevation difference between the sides and the bottom. This greatly reduces the volume of material to excavate. For instance, a one acre pond that averages ten feet deep will have a volume of 16,133 cubic yards. If you only need to excavate one-tenth of this to build a low dam, your excavation expense could drop from the $30,000 per acre range to the $8,000 range. Note that building a dam is more expensive per volume than simply excavating a basin. We further reduce excavation expense by designing habitat to perform better with less depth. Most ponds are dug too deep. To create high quality pond and lake habitats, there are significant additional expenses associated in the form of materials and detailed excavation.  

Once the site is excavated, the new basin must be sealed unless the site is dug into a tight clay formation. Most sites require at least compacting existing clay soils, or if clay is not present then we need to augment the soil by importing quality clays or other sealants. Compacting a site costs several thousand dollars an acre. The cost of importing and applying sealants may range from $4,000 to $16,000 per acre depending on location and soil conditions. Installing synthetic pond liners cost even more than our estimated range. Installing a synthetic pond liner and protective underlayment runs in the range of $45,000 per acre. As a rule of thumb, most backyard garden or fish ponds cost around one-dollar per square foot of pond liner surface area. This includes the synthetic liner and a protective underlayment. That is if a person does not use clay or keeps the pond a couple of feet deep where silt can actually seal a small pond because there is little head pressure in those shallow depths. An important consideration for the cost of building a lake or pond with a plastic liner is if any habitat is placed over the liner, it will cost more due to the extra care that slows excavation because the plastic is very fragile compared to clay.

Keep in mind these are a very basic examples. There are a number of technical issues that contribute to site selection. This is why we offer pond and lake property evaluation services along with design, construction inspection and restoration services. These examples do not include the detail work that make our ponds, lakes and streams so valuable. They are simply estimates anyone would use for a basic body of water. Most of our projects include very scenic shorelines and recirculated streams along with the lake or pond. Clear water is very attractive, but the addition of a wildflower meadow and a spring creek elevate the financial and emotional value of a project to a higher level.

You will realize the value of professional design when you see how much can be saved during construction, and realize continued savings in maintenance and tremendous increase in life expectancy of the lake or pond. You will move less earth with our assistance. We are very strong in this niche due to our biological experience in combination with construction experience. You can start to plan the budget of a pond or lake with the figures we offer realizing the total cost per acre of water is very dependent on the geology and slope of the site, the price of materials (clay, soil, sand etc.) excavation expense and quality of habitat you desire. Our lake and pond property evaluation service becomes an excellent investment because of these potential costs. The right site is going to cost much less to build on when compared to most sites.

Annual maintenance expenses span a range of nearly zero to an excess of $2,000 per acre, depending on the quality of the design. The projects we design do not use any chemicals, mechanical management, or commercial bacterial products, so our clients enjoy long term savings along with the quality we offer. Poorly designed ponds require a continual investment in order to keep them clean. You may have noticed that we really don't offer any pond maintenance service. We are too busy building quality projects that have little or no need for ongoing maintenance.

If you do not have a year around spring, stream or reliable clean surface runoff on your property, you will need to put in a well. Well drilling costs are best estimated by your local well drilling contractor. Since property without a stream or spring is generally much less expensive, it may be more cost effective to purchase dry ground and drill a well.

After the pond has been in place a year or two, the vegetation is established and healthy, and the fish are large and healthy, then the pond brings a significantly higher value to the property. You many want to talk to a local realtor regarding the value a high quality pond brings to property. We mention this under the construction cost heading because improved property value should be considered when evaluating pond construction costs.

It is our experience that water clarity, large fish size, high quality aesthetics and little or no maintenance requirement for a pond, will bring much more value than a larger, poorly built pond with weed problems, high maintenance expense and/or dirty water.


How much does it cost to build a Trophy Fishing Pond or Lake?

Trophy fishing lakes and trout ponds begin with the same costs as the habitats outlined above. From there we consider the needs of trophy size game fish such as trout, bass and pike etcetera. Some species like bass do not require high quality water because of their biology and diet, however many people prefer more aesthetically pleasing clear water that is not usually known for producing trophy sized fish. Our decades of experience in designing trophy trout habitat have taught us how to have both. Don't worry about what you hear at the local sporting goods store. The cost of producing these habitats is significantly more than a standard pond or lake, but site requirements are so variable that we cannot apply a rule of thumb price for these projects. We will say it is critical to find the right land before investing in a high quality project. Yes, we can assist with lake and waterfront real estate acquisition. Our trophy trout ponds and lakes. page is valuable for those interested in cold water fish species. It needs to be pointed out that while the budget for a trophy fishing lake is higher, that cost is ameliorated when one considers these high quality fishery habitats also produce significantly more weight of fish than a typical aquatic habitat.

One more thought about building trophy fishing lakes and ponds: Yes, you can grow larger fish by feeding them pellets, but is that really a trophy fishing habitat or simply a fish hatchery masquerading as a lake? We suggest you smile and walk away from anyone who wants to install feeders on your lake or sell you truck loads of bait fish ( i.e. fat head minnows). Both of those methods are more expensive than creating a body of water that will provide natural forage. We could hardly call ourselves Biologists if part of our plan was to feed pelleted food to fish like so much livestock.

We just dug our pond. Can you make it perfect now?

Creating a high quality lake or pond begins with design. Yes we can improve your pond, but you can expect to have to drain the pond and make major modifications to what you have installed. Much of our business comes from redesigning and rebuilding new ponds that were not efficiently designed. If you are thinking of building a new stream, pond or lake, talk to us before you break ground.

We CONVERT A LOT OF WARM WATER FISHING LAKES & PONDS TO TROUT WATERS without major reconstruction as well. This is very site specific thus we will need to get several temperature readings through late summer to accomplish this goal.


How much does it cost to build a garden pond?

There is a very wide range of answers to this question depending upon the quality and size of the garden pond. The answers also depend on the project being a watergarden or an ornamental fish pond such as a koi pond. We will exclude the do-it-yourself improvised pond from this discussion since they tend to mirror the desired budget of the builder, but rarely reach the quality goals.

We have seen some ornamental fish ponds exceed $50,000 due to elaborate elements such as filtration and rock work. Remember, these are ponds measured in gallons instead of acres. Water garden ponds appear to range in the vicinity of $15,000 for ponds ranging around 150 to 200 square feet. These watergardens lack the cleansing power of most of the ornamental fish ponds, however.

Factors influencing the cost of building backyard garden fish ponds or water gardens:

  • Access: Is there sufficient width to access the area with a truck? A ten foot wide lane in the side yard allows faster and less expensive digging and removal of the soil to build the pond.
  • Utility Lines: always perform a utility line search before breaking ground. Lines can be rerouted, but at some cost.
  • Drainage: rerouting lawn irrigation run off water is important to keep clean water. Pipes generally cost more than ditches or swales if room is lacking for drainage.
  • Soil type: Is the soil stable enough to support a pond? Very sandy soil can be more expensive for pond construction since it tends to slump if the builder desires to create steep walls.
  • Slope: retaining walls are not cheap to build, but they do offer the base for a nice waterfall.
  • Waste water: in rural sitations, is there a drainfield or septic tank up hill of pond site? Septic systems are expensive to move, but a drain may separate the two elements.
  • Transportation and dump fees: hauling soil away from a site will cost more in cities that experience heavy traffic. In some cities the trucks only run mid-day due to traffic congestion early and late. Any soil that can be kept on site to contour the landscape will save money. All of these factors apply to natural swimming pools and ponds as well.

Spring Creek Aquatic Concepts designs these small ponds as completely natural ponds that cost closer to the range expected for a water garden pond, but they have even more cleansing power than the ornamental fish ponds mentioned above. They prove that science trumps technological fixes. Of course Spring Creek ponds also look much more natural than virtually all water gardens and ornamental fish ponds. A Spring Creek ornamental pond also does not require constant or even frequent attention; they are all designed to maintain themselves.

visit our gallery of ponds lakes and streams

How much does it cost to build a swimming pond?

For larger residential properties we offer natural swimming ponds for those interested in a natural alternative to a pool with the attributes of a water garden, ornamental fish pond and a beach. The cost of our swimming ponds are in line with the costs of one of our ornamental ponds if it were built to the same size and depth. We invite you to learn more on our swimming pond page. Because swimming ponds are usually deeper, they most often cost more than other landscape ponds or water features.

Is my pond leaking?

When evaluating a pond or lake that is reported as leaking, we start by looking at the circumstances of the site. The first thing we do is compare the evaporation rate of the area with the change in water elevation in the pond or lake. During the heat of summer, it is common to see evaporation rates of a half inch per day throughout arid areas of the Southwest United States. Less than a quarter inch of daily evaporation is common in more temperate climates. If your water supply is not contributing to the lake or pond and you are losing on the order of 15-17 inches (arid climate) or 7-9 inches (temperate climate) of water per month during summer, you may not need to even think about resealing the pond. An inch or two of seepage per month is usual even in a tightly sealed pond. This is included in these figures. By the way, we actually want a pond to leak a little since it helps rid the pond of excess nutrients which accumulate in the depths.

To test for leakage vs. evaporation, we suggest setting a bucket full of water next to the pond and protect it from animals by placing a screen over the bucket. Compare the water loss in the bucket with the water loss in the pond. The difference will tell you if you need to consider sealing the pond. Any water flowing into the pond will either need to be shut off or calculated into this comparison.

There is a very important exception to this technique: if your pond has a large area of emergent vegetation, then you need to consider the evapotranspiration rate in the plants. Even in Western Oregon, we can see vegetation use an inch of water per day via evapotranspiration, compared to less than 0.2 inches of daily evaporation during summer. If your pond has extensive shoreline and shallow water vegetation, this may be your "leak". If a quarter of your pond is covered by emergent vegetation, then figure an additional quarter inch per day of evaporation since one-quarter of the pond may be evapotranspiring an inch per day. We have not researched all species of emergent vegetation so results will vary.

Testing for evapotranspiration in plants may be more involved than you want to get, but it is much less involved than trying to reseal a pond that does not need to be sealed.

Another source of leakage is the moist soil along the shores of the pond which is produced by capillary action. If the clay or synthetic liner does not extend above the capillary zone, the pond is going to continually send water out via its edge. This is usually fixed by extending the liner sufficiently high enough above the water surface elevation. Periodically check for moist soil along the shoreline during dry weather.

If this sounds like clay lined ponds are trickier to build than synthetic lined ponds, that may be true. On the other hand, clay is generally much cheaper than synthetics, plus clay produces much higher quality lakes and ponds when designed correctly. Over the life of the pond, quality construction in clay will result in a pond with less expense and maintenance than synthetic lined ponds and lakes, which do not cleanse their own nutrients without further design and/or equipment etc. Clay sealed ponds and lakes last for centuries while plastic pond liners last a couple decades.

With clay, it is important to utilize a contractor who has experience building clay lined ponds. We recently heard of a contractor who quipped that he has made a lot of money off people who had him build clay lined ponds. He says he makes the extra profit when he goes back in to line the pond with a synthetic liner. What this says to us is this particular contractor does not possess the required knowledge to build clay sealed ponds. If he had sufficient knowledge, he wouldn't need to reseal the ponds. Be sure your pond contractor is qualified for the task before you hire them. We also help clients select the best contractor. Investing a few hundred dollars on a soils lab test is very good insurance for a lake or pond.

A qualified lake or pond contractor / builder is crucial if you intend to use commercial Bentonite clay to line or seal the basin. Bentonite is a very effective pond sealant in the right hands. We see way too many people try to use this material who have no concept of its requirements. We urge everyone to seek out a contractor who has been successful with Bentonite instead of trying to seal their own lake. Subtle design requirements exist in order to create an efficient seal with Bentonite. On a broader scale, unless you prefer a very average pond, a search for local pond builders near me will likely cost you more than seeking the best pond / lake builder who will deliver the best habitat. Being the closest pond builder only saves on transportation instead of what is most important: quality. As with anything that requires knowledge, it is better to buy your vegetables locally and knowledge universally.


Testing materials to seal a pond or lake

Historically ponds were usually built within a stream channel due to construction convenience. Those days are over for most situations now. While streams were an inexpensive source of ample water, more projects are now relying upon wells for their water. When water was abundant, few people concerned themselves with a tight seal. A good seal is more important now when considering the cost of pumping additional well water. We outline general methods of ensuring a proper seal in the following discussion.

We are often asked how to evaluate soils used to seal ponds and lakes; our approach is two tiered. The first thing we do is a very simple test, then if we need further research, we bring in a soils scientist or engineer to utilize techniques that improve the quality of marginal materials. We will outline the simple method here.

To quickly identify the best clay material, grasp a handful of moist earth in your hands and roll it into a ball shape. If the ball maintains its form when you drop it on the ground, it may contain sufficient clay. Take the ball and roll it between your hands to form a thin pencil shape. If this pencil shape of clay will bend before breaking, the clay is likely of sufficient quality to seal a pond. There are always exceptions, so move onto the next test.

The Pond Bucket Test - Part 1 Using something like a five-gallon bucket, drill several holes along the vertical edge near the bottom of the bucket. Holes of around 3/8th inch work well. Next, fill the bottom of the bucket with four inches of crushed gravel, such as 3/4-minus. On top of the gravel, place about six inches of what ever soil/clay type material you plan to use for the pond. Thoroughly compact this clay layer throughout the bucket, paying particular attention to the edge. Make sure the clay is somewhat moist. Moist enough to make a ball out of the material is about optimum. Now fill the bucket to the rim with water. Cover the bucket with an impervious surface such as plastic. Wait a couple days, then refill the bucket. The soil needs time to saturate with water. Cover the bucket once again. Now wait up to a week to see if the soil will hold water. Obviously you can check after the first day to see if the material failed. Our experience has been that if you lose less than an inch of water after a week in the bucket, you have good material. We don't seem to get as good of compaction in a bucket as we do out in the lakes and ponds themselves. This is why we relax our expectations within the bucket.

The Pond Bucket Test Part 2 The first part of this test tells us how a pond the same depth of the bucket will seep. Water pressure increases directly with the depth of the lake / pond. There are two ways to get an accurate sense of how much the pond will leak. The first is send samples of the soil to an engineering lab to analyze at the lake design depth. The second way is to seal a pipe into the top of the bucket such that water can be added to simulate the desired depth of the pond. This is the best method for the do it yourself pond builder who does not wish to invest a few hundred dollars on a lab test.

If you are really interested in an acid test, create a small pond out of the materials you plan to use. Dig the pond to the same depth you plan to build your finished pond in order to simulate the same water pressure that causes leakage. Fill the pond and compare water elevation decline with a bucket of water placed in the shallows of the pond. Again, be sure to screen the top of the bucket to keep animals from drinking etc. Be aware the smaller pond needs to be close to the design depth of the pond habitat you plan to build. This is the best method for someone who plans on expanding this small test pond.

Having a professional soils scientist or engineer test the quality of the clay is always a good idea before investing in pond and lake construction. Read more of our in-depth insights into sealing ponds and lakes as well as natural pond liners here  

How Deep to Build A Pond / Lake

This is one aspect that most would-be pond builders get wrong almost all of the time. People think "deeper is better". It is only better until the lake runs out of dissolved oxygen, then it is a huge liability. It is the main reason thousands of aerators are sold every year. It is the reason that "fall turnover" strikes fear into many pond owners' hearts. If the expense of electricity and running power to a pond is no object, then dig away. If maintaining a pond is not a high priority, then think harder about depth. A great number of websites try to give a rule of thumb depth for each species of fish in a lake. The reality is this is a very site specific question that is not going to be responsibly answered with a single number. In general we will say the water can be deeper if it is known the pond will have clear water since algae and plants in deep water generate oxygen that may be sufficient for a healthy aerobic pond habitat. This is when it is a good idea to look around the region for other bodies of water in similar circumstances. There are a wide range of subtle influences, but at least the answer is better defined with local examples. A smaller pond of less than an acre 20 feet deep is most often a cause for problems as well as a source of wasted money for unneccessary excavation.

Invasive Plants

We offer information to encourage the use of native vegetation which does not tend to cause problems in well designed habitats. Review our Invasive Species page to learn about the most threatening plants across North America. We offer sources of appropriate native vegetation as well, on our Resources page. Our Myths page also discusses a few invasive species that are often mistaken for natives.


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Spring Creek Aquatic Concepts

Lake Placid, NY       Portland, OR       Bend, OR

Vancouver BC Canada       Estes Park Colorado - spring 2010

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Designing a pond with help tips from professional pond design Biologists

Designing a pond for a garden to biologically or naturally designing a pond for large trophy fish in trout ponds, we are Biologists who have been designing lake & pond habitats over 30 years. We excel in designing natural pond, lake and stream habitats... and natural pond construction techniques Subjects: Designing swimming pond with a beach and landscaping swimming pond construction. Natural methods and design for building a swimming pond building technique. Our aquatic designs minimize Natural swimming pond maintenance. See our guide for design & building swimming ponds. Why are Biologists the best at designing swimming ponds? We have a much better understanding of science from the pond seal to lake ecology and we apply them to these more simple aquatic habitats. We have uniquely developed the best biological and most efficient techniques and tips for constructing ponds starting with natural biological methods of designing ponds. These are the distinct advantages of natural swimming ponds versus swimming pools. Why a biologist should design your swimming pond instead of a landscaper or landscape architect. What we learn in very technical trophy fishing lake design also applies to fish ponds. Our natural ornamental fish ponds do not require the large investment of filters, UV water sterilizers, ionizers or bacteria additives that others who claim to build natural ponds require. Not only are our landscape fish ponds sealed with natural materials like clay, they provide their own natural food. Because our pond edges are natural, our fish pond construction costs are not as high as those using tons of rocks and boulders. Trophy fishing lake construction is always best with a Biologists guidance since our knowledge and experience is crucial to the cost of building a lake can be a real investment. visit our pond habitat and lessons on the difference between lakes and ponds page for a lesson on the origins of natural ponds lakes and streams. trout fishing lake & pond property , waterfront property - lakefront land with ponds for sale fly fishing property trout habitat for lakes and ponds of Trophy Trout Habitat design by Biologists.