Feature 5: Repairing Erosion around a Pond
By Bob Lusk
That’s a full sentence right there. Ray is an iconic American, named a few years back by Field and Stream Magazine as one of the top 50 most influential people in the outdoors in the 20th century. Considering Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold also made that list, that’s mighty impressive company.
For those who might not know, Ray Scott started B.A.S.S. in 1968, and is considered the father of bass fishing. He grew that organization into a force that’s had an impact on environmental management as it helped create a huge industry. To this day, B.A.S.S. influence still helps to fund and manage public waters around the nation. Toss in the signature BassMaster’s Classic, the super bowl of bass fishing, plus the associated tournament trail, and you get the picture.
That’s what I mean by “a full sentence.”
Ray has been a personal friend for more than fifteen years, and during that time I’ve had the honor of helping to manage his private fishing lakes near Pintlala, Alabama.
Not long ago, he decided to sell his famous homestead and fishing retreat, and relocate to the far side of his property on a few acres next to the body of water that attracted him in the first place, Tabernacle Lake. Tabernacle has quite a few years under its belt, maybe as many as 75. The driveway into that end of the property rolls across a levee of fabled Tabernacle Lake, so it’s become important to pay attention to the integrity of the soils beneath—eroded soils, chewed by waves of time and abundant water can’t be allowed to compromise that driveway.
The new owner of the rest of Ray’s place, a prominent attorney from Montgomery, has been working with Ray’s right hand man, Jim Kientz. He’s learning about the fishery, the legendary lake, and how to best take care of this cherished property. The most famous fishing hole, President’s Lake, also has a few years under its famous belt, and is showing classic signs of erosion. Peripherally, shoreline soils have been subjected to the beating of wind and wave action. That part of Alabama is blessed with rains, dispersible soils, and waves—a combination that leads to beach-like erosion, an undercutting of soils beneath ample turf grass, and at Tabernacle Lake, a paved driveway.
According to Kientz, “We have probably lost three to four feet of shoreline on President’s Lake over the past ten years. What used to be a sloping edge is now a short, straight drop-off with erosion continuing underneath the edge, undercutting the shore.” He added, “At Tabernacle, I’m a little worried that it will undercut the driveway and create a problem. What can we do about the erosion?”
There are several answers. The best remedy depends on the situation.
During times of low water, heavy equipment can be used to physically bring eroded soils back where they belong, reshape the shorelines, rebuild the slopes, and feather the edges to a natural look. But, there are caveats to that answer. Water needs to be really low—like down several feet, so that a bulldozer, an excavator, or even a smaller machine like a skid-steer loader can maneuver enough to replace dirt where it belongs. The upside to this method is it can be done quickly, and depending on the circumstances, isn’t exceptionally expensive. The biggest downside is having to revegetate freshly moved earth, probably during a drought, or the hottest months of the year. The key to the success of this method is to get plants growing fast, or seal it another way.
Another method is to fill eroded voids with riprap. Riprap is an excellent choice even if you choose to move the dirt into place with equipment, or fill a reasonable area that’s previously eroded. For those who don’t recognize the term, riprap refers to stacking baseball- to basketball-sized rocks to absorb the energy of wave action and stop soils from moving. Riprap is normally applied by hand with a wheelbarrow, by a skilled operator on a backhoe, or by using a trackhoe to pick up the rock and stack it where it needs to be. One objection heard when thinking about riprap is that it looks a little bit too institutional in a rural setting; never mind it plays a nice role in a habitat plan for tiny fish, but this is an article about erosion, not fisheries.
If bringing in heavy equipment isn’t an option, consider adding a retaining wall where you wish the shoreline to be, then backfill with soils, using the best method for your property. A typical application is to build the wall, bring in dump truck loads of appropriate soils, then using a rubber-tired front end loader, place soils a bucket at a time. One common practice is to wait for the water to drop, or pump the pond down to drain it a few feet, and then build a retaining wall of bags of concrete, concrete blocks, timbers, or the best material at hand. If you want a retaining wall to last, it needs to be well anchored into the ground and sitting on a firm foundation. One type of retaining wall is created by driving connecting pieces of thick sheet metal straight into the ground. Then, with a cutting torch, cut at level, add a cap and backfill. I’ve also seen bags of Sacrete laid in rows, to create an angled sidewalk from two feet below the surface all the way into the undercut areas. If you think about using a retaining wall, calculate the volume of dirt it will take to backfill that eroded area behind your new wall. A retaining wall will only be as good as the material from which it’s made, and how well it is anchored into the ground.
Cutting edge products that are particularly good to use for erosion control in areas where heavy equipment cannot be accessed are geotubes. These are polypropylene-woven geotextiles shaped like a tube. They are installed along the affected shoreline, primarily in eroded areas of sandy nature, like most of Florida, in golf courses, or HOA’s. The big tube is positioned and anchored, with one end closed. Workers pump sand into the tube, which effectively blows it up like an earthen, beachy balloon. Then, gaps behind it are backfilled with sand. Topsoil is added and planted to create a brand new retaining wall/shoreline. Roots grow through the geo-textile, plants become established, and before long you have more lawn to mow. The upside to this method? You can add shoreline without using heavy equipment or tearing up existing lawns. The downside? You need deep pockets. It ain’t cheap. Cost is high for the best situations, higher if contractors can’t pump sand.
These methods are four of the best ways to fix eroded shorelines and areas, but if you are of the mindset to never have to spend dollars to fix this type of problem, you’d best be thinking about prevention. Don’t let erosion around your shoreline become a problem. Catch it early. Almost every pond goes through a phase of low water. Remember this, if you aren’t in a drought, you will be. Use that time to reinforce those vulnerable areas and lessen the risk of having to break out the big checkbook to fix a problem later.
What’s the godfather of bass fishing apt to do? If I know him, he likes the look of a nice retaining wall, with a manicured lawn up to the lake’s edge—leaving some room to cast a line, catch a big bass, and get the glistening beast close enough to shore to admire and offer a quick release.