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Article 30: Pond System Resilience – Risk Assessment, by Jeff Richardson

Posted by Jeff Richardson on

Having a water feature is not without risk.  The risk may be minor, or if you have a lot invested in fish or equipment for instance, the risk may be large.  Perform a risk assessment and weigh your options carefully.  Write down the various “what if” scenarios listed below and assess you feature for all possible outcomes.

Scenarios:  Review your water feature.  Do you have a very large system with lots of expensive flora and fauna?  Or do you have a small system with just a single pump?  Or perhaps you have a lot of equipment – but no fish.  Have you thought about “what if”?  You should perform an assessment of your system; consider the risks of component outages or failures.  Some of the solutions may be pricey, but weigh that against the cost of losing some or all your equipment, flora and fauna, or danger or harm comes to you or others.  Just like your home, you want to insure, mitigate or prevent any risk as much as possible.

Pump Failure: Pumps are mechanical pieces of equipment.  This equipment runs nearly continuously and will eventually fail (just like any appliance).  They are at the heart of your system and as testament to the cover picture of this article; a pump failure can be deadly serious to your pond life.  If a pump fails (and it will), assess how long you have.  If you have multiple pumps, go through each scenario of what happens if one of them fails while the others continue.  It would be hard to imagine having multiple pumps fail simultaneously, but Murphy says it can happen.  Without pumps, water will not move, water remains unfiltered, oxygen levels drop, and the water chemistry begins to change (for the worse).  A large volume of water with little or no animal load will be slower to change.  Little water and lots of fish mean little time. 

Power Outages: Sometimes the power goes out.  Unless you have backup power with a Static Transfer Switch that automatically switches from your utility power to another source, all electrical components of your pond will stop.  Further, even if you have alarms and automation, your Wi-Fi and router will stop too, so you will not be informed of the outage.  Worse than a pump failure, all pumps, UV filters, aerators, lights, alarms, automatic valves and anything requiring power will not work.  Just like when a pump fails, the clock starts ticking.  Water chemistry degrades, oxygen drops, filters stop – and the stopwatch is tied to the fish or animal load versus the quantity of water.  Worse still, if your water is supplied by a well, then the well pump may not be working either; meaning you will not have access to fresh potable water.

Component Leak: Depending on the plumbing system and how components are connected, run through various situations where water is leaking through a single component.  This is why it’s important during the design phase to figure out all the flow rates and capacities of each component.  This will let you predict how long before the component or entire system would run dry.  Small systems or large systems with high volume pumps equate to little time.  What happens to your pond life and your pumps if the water disappears?  Will there be pockets safe from entire water loss?  Remember, pumps may be damaged and fail should they run dry.  Consider different kinds of leaks in various locations and write down the outcomes. 

Personal Harm: Water features (even very shallow ones) are a drowning hazard to pets and people (especially children).  Although this is a difficult subject, run through various scenarios of a terrible event like this occurring; and what may happen in the aftermath. Have you done everything in your power to prevent this?  Are you protected in other ways?  Ponds contain electrical equipment as well.  Water and electricity do not mix.  Have you ensured that this is a low risk issue?  Although your equipment may be safe, how about power tools that you are using around the water feature?  Always plan with safety in mind.

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1 comment


  • I wish I had thought about putting my water pump and my aerator on 2 separate circuits. If I had, I could’ve prevented a massive die-off of fish when my breaker accidentally tripped and both went off. 105 fish died overnight. I’m so glad you took the time to write this article Jeff and share your experience. For those that are reading this, please learn from my mistakes. PUtting your critical life support components on separate circuits could mean the difference between success and massive failure in keeping koi.
    Critical components in my opinion that should always be kept on separate circuits = 1) your pump 2) your aerator 3) your heater or deicer if its in the winter. Always, always, always keep them on different circuits.

    Ben on

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