Iowa Ponds
Iowa ponds

An Iowa pond is an ideal spot for many forms of outdoor fun, including swimming, fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, and picnicking.  The value of Iowa’s ponds cannot be understated. There are about 110,000 ponds in Iowa and many Iowans had their first fishing experience on a pond. Iowa ponds also have a tremendous impact on the economy, supporting 1.6 million fishing trips annually with a local economic impact estimated at $7.5 million.

Iowa's ponds reflect the fertility of its agricultural land. A pond in Iowa will support more fish than ponds located in most other states. Because of this high "carrying capacity" our ponds have the potential to provide outstanding fishing in both sizes and numbers of fish.  This high fertility can also create vegetation issues in ponds.  A pond plant identification guide can help you to identify and properly manage the plants growing in your pond.

Life within a pond is a complex system with the various life forms dependent upon each other. Ponds contain minute single and multicellular plants called plankton. The microscopic plankton are eaten by crustaceans, insects, and tadpoles also living in the pond. Small fish, crayfish and frogs feed on the crustaceans and insects and in turn are eaten by larger fish. Bluegills, although they may grow to nine inches, feed primarily on insects throughout their lives, while bass feed on insects only in their early stages.  As bass get larger, they become the major predator in a pond consuming fish, crayfish, and frogs. Each link in this web of life must be present for successive links to be present and survive. Man forms the final link in the chain by actively seeking and consuming fish caught from the pond. How man goes about managing the pond and its surroundings is the most important influence on that environment.

If you have questions regarding a pond issue, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources provides fish and wildlife management assistance at no cost. Many pond management questions are about fish stocking, and answers to the most common questions can be found on the Pond Stocking page.

Pond Watershed: The best ponds in Iowa have between 10 acres and 20 acres of watershed for each surface acre of water impounded. Protected timber is preferred as watershed cover. Other suitable watershed covers include grassland and pasture. Rowcrop is the least desirable watershed because silt laden runoff shortens pond life and fish populations are drastically reduced.

Livestock Watering: Ponds can be used for livestock watering if a small pipe (2 in.) is installed in the lower portion of the dam. The pipe should extend into the pond and connect with a standpipe, the top of which should be four feet lower than the water surface when the pond is full. A watering tank could then be placed below the dam and a float valve installed to keep a correct water level in the tank. Using a watering pipe and tank as opposed to allowing livestock access to the pond will provide cool fresh water to the livestock and eliminate livestock trampling the dam and pond banks.  Contact your local NRCS office for assistance in designing one of these systems.  The pond and dam should be fenced.

Pond Fencing: One of the most important aspects of building a pond is fencing to exclude livestock. Unfortunately, this is the most neglected part of construction and often is the cause of slow fish growth, unbalanced fish populations, lack of wildlife cover and shortened pond life. The fence should be constructed at least 60-100 feet from the pond edge and completely enclose the pond and dam. Fence construction should be adequate to exclude all livestock.

Proper Watering: proper cattle watering

Improper Watering: improper cattle watering

Proper Dam Design for Watering: dam design diagram

Ponds without fences usually have the bank slopes and sod ruined by livestock, thereby weakening the dam and spillway. Livestock wading into the water will destroy fish spawning nests and will result in muddy water. A grass buffer strip inside the fence will protect the pond retarding runoff, thus allowing most silt and contaminants to settle before reaching the pond. This strip will provide escape, nesting and cover for many wildlife species.

Wildlife Benefits:
The basic needs of most wildlife species are rather simple. These requirements include nesting or denning cover, a food supply, escape cover, and winter cover. Lack of one or more of these needs may limit total population numbers. Buffer strips adjacent to ponds will provide critical nesting, denning, winter and escape cover for wildlife. This cover can also greatly improve the quality of the water and add to the life expectancy of the pond by reducing soil losses from erosion.

All requirements for wildlife and erosion control can be met when adequate areas adjacent to the pond are properly managed. One program of importance in both erosion control and wildlife nesting is the seeding of suitable areas to grass or legumes.  Native warm season grasses such as Switch grass, Indian grass, or Big bluestem, all provide excellent erosion control and wildlife habitat. Other wildlife requirements can be met by planting trees and shrubs in the pond area. Conifers can be used to provide both winter and escape cover.  Other medium-sized trees such as mulberry and wild plum provide cover as well as food. Shrubs provide many benefits including food production, both escape and winter cover, and provide excellent nesting areas for wildlife species. Planting should be carefully planned to provide the maximum amount of edge and cover diversity so wildlife can benefit.

A Wildlife Management Biologist is located in your area and is available for technical assistance in planning for optimum wildlife habitat in the vicinity of your pond.  Wildlife habitat development may be cost shared through your county's USDA office.
1. NESTING COVER (Bluestem, Switch grass, Indian grass, Birdsfoot trefoil,Sweet clover, Alfalfa)
2. WINTER COVER (Juniper, Cedar, Pines)
3. ESCAPE COVER (Ninebark, Dogwood, Bush junipers, Elderberry, Raspberry)
4. SEED PRODUCING TREES (Wild plum, Mulberry, Osage orange)
5. MAST PRODUCING TREES (Walnut, Oak, Choke cherry)