By Bob Lusk
I’ll never, ever forget what happened in a pond I inspected once.
As much as we love our ponds, it’s easy to become complacent about a simple concept as safety. Avoid that complacency. Water temperatures are dropping as winter wraps its cold arms around our water bodies. Make yourself a checklist and take a short trek around the pond and look for issues which might compromise safety.
The most obvious point, for humans…especially little humans, is steep sides and rapid drops.
Remember, the human body in cold water only has a few minutes to escape the fatal effects of hypothermia.
I’ll never, ever forget what happened in a pond I inspected once. The two acre pond wasn’t particularly lovely. It didn’t have a great fishery. It wasn’t even in a good location. From the cabin, located fifty yards from the pond, I could hear the dull roar of traffic on a nearby interstate highway. Annoying.
This pond was oval-shaped, and 90% of the shoreline was flat, with a slight grade into the water. But, that 10% of shoreline which wasn’t flat…was scary-looking. As I launched the electrofishing boat that day and took a close look at the fish, I couldn’t take my eyes off that sheer, muddy dropoff on the far shore. I drove the boat over and looked at it closely. The water dropped at about a 60% angle and went straight down at least fifteen feet deep.
I looked at the fish as we shocked, looked again at the steep bank, looked over at my client’s young kids playing near the cabin, looked back at the steep clay bank…and knew I had to issue a word of caution.
After finishing the fisheries survey, I told the landowner my concerns about the steep far shore. He didn’t have the same concern…or urgency.
Not only did I suggest he do something for the safety of this steep bank, I put it in writing in the report filed.
A few days after Christmas that year, I received a chilling email from the landowner. It seems one of his kids had a guest for the weekend. The adventuresome boys decided to make their way all the way around the pond. The guest, a young lad of a mere 10 years on this earth, slipped on the clay bank and rode the wet slide into fifteen feet of water…50 degree water.
The landowner had written to say “thanks” for the safety nudge. His wife had read the report and demanded her husband take action. He had a tall extension aluminum ladder under the cabin. During one working weekend in the summer, he had taken time to grab the ladder, extend it, and put it on the steep bank and anchor it…just in case.
He had pushed it into the pond bottom and then tied the top to some tree roots to hold it in place.
I visited the Texas Hill Country, near Kerrville, earlier this summer. As we toured the ranch, the owner (who’d bought it less than two years ago) pointed out a sweeping swale of green grass adjacent to a scenic creek. He said, “A neighbor recently told me there was a pond here for many years. The family I bought the ranch from had a son, 13 years old, drown in that pond. They filled it in with dirt and planted grass.
Ray Scott, the father of bass fishing, has told me on many, many occasions, “Pond Boss, you why people don’t wear a life jacket?” Then, “Because they’ve never drowned.”
Keep PFD’s nearby. Every dock and boat should have some, and a plan to use them.
One of my clients, in his mid-70’s, toppled off his dock one evening. It was summer, so the water was warm. He swam to shallow water and then walked out. The next week, every dock on the place had a ladder to be able to get out of the water for any case.
If you’re planning to build a lake, keep shoreline slopes as close to a three to one slope as you can. That slope is safe for both animals and humans to escape.
If you have an aeration system in the north, keep in mind your system will keep open holes in the ice. If a human or animal ventures toward that hole, there is a likelihood of falling through.
Inspect your dock for loose or rotten boards. Also, pay attention to the pilings. If your dock or pier has much age to it, now is a good time to do a thorough inspection.
Look for the obvious, but also be aware of the subtle, too.
There is no better time to pay attention to pond safety than in winter.