Pond Tips - How to design a Proper Pond

If you look at 100 ponds, you will probably see 100 different designs. Pond design is a great time to express your own personal ideas. Natural ponds are all different, so it's expected that people will try to design a pond that looks like all of the great pond views that they have seen or experienced. I applaud original thinking in design.

In order to build a home pond that "works", rather than one of those nightmares that keeps a property unsold for years, we need to design in several important functions. A proper Pond is one that is healthy for it's occupants as well as pleasing to the senses.

Every successful pond designer has learned the best methods to contain water.  But, more important, they know how to create a balanced pond, that looks, sounds and smells terrific.

These next paragraphs will discuss the key points that should not be ignored.

A pond DOES NOT need a separate filtration system if you do not place any fish in it and you can keep all leaves, dust and trash from falling into it. If your pond will be indoors, and contain no plants, you might be succesful.

For the other 99% of us, a filtration system is the VERY FIRST thing that we should be considering. Take the time to read up and understand what a Biological filter is and how it works. In the most simple terms, the filter must remove dust and debris by separation, and remove ammonia, nitrates and nitrites thru a natural biological process.

The smartest pond designers use a ratio of 10% filter size to 90% pond capacity. I specifically used "SIZE" when describing the filter to eliminate the huge and erroneous claims of capacity made by filter salespeople. To be clear, a 2000 gallon pond needs a filter that holds 200 gallons of water.  Very well designed systems, that include highly effective BIO mass, air injection, vigorous waterfalls, large UV lights and lots of plants can get by with a 5% ratio. Ponds with heavy fish stocking, in dusty or windy areas, or those surrounded by trees require more.

If you read about some guy on the internet that has developed his own "cheap" way to build a filter, read it with a grain of salt. Cheap is just that, cheaply built, requiring heavy maintenance and usually requiring replacement in a short period of time. Thirty years ago, people were building filters with a pit full of gravel. These worked well right up until they filled with dirt, then they became a plugged, stinking anerobic mess requiring complete removal. This can take place in as little as one season.

Another popular method is the use of plastic food barrels. These can actually work if designed very carefully. However, they also become plugged, and their design means that you have to get all of the media out of the bottom of the tall barrel to clean it. Their success is also dependant upon the media used. Many media types will develop channels thru the media, and the water shoots straight thru without being processed.

Another filter method using barrels is the K1 media design where small semi-bouyant balls are continually tumbled by carefull water flow design. This works for Biological purposes, but requires separate solids removal before entering the K1 media.

We have found that even barrel filter designs that work are not only an eyesore, but they can cost more than most to assemble and require far more maintenance time than vertical media systems.

Bead filters are very successful at solids removal, but consume large amounts of water for daily reverse flow cleaning. If you are paying for water, that and the huge initial cost should be major considerations.

Another that I will discuss here are fluid media designs. These can be very effective Bio filters in a small area. But, pre filtration to remove solids is absolutely mandatory. Totally enclosed fluid media designs are extremely difficult to unplug, requiring disassembly.

I will now bring up my favorite design, which is a Vertical Matala System. In a nutshell, this design accomplishes both Solids Removal and Bio Filtration, is relatively affordable, low maintenance, and lasts indefinately. I've seen 20 year old Matala pads that function as well as new.
Matala is a plastic mat that looks like flattened spaghetti. It was designed by the Japanese to accomplish water cleaning in city sized systems. Twenty plus years ago pond folks found that it was an ideal media for home ponds. A company named MatalaUSA imports the full sized pads, cuts them into UPS Ground shipable sizes and makes them commonly available.

Most home ponds use quarter sheet sizes (24" x 19-1/2" x 1-1/2") which are very easy to handle. Today there are numerous products on the market using Matala media. It now comes in flats, rounds, and other shapes.
A good rule is to look at the actual square feet of Matala media used in the product to make an effective comparison.

The Vertical Matala System has variations. The best seem to be up/down flow systems where the water moves thru numerous chambers. These chambers contain progressively tighter media. The chamber bottom is shaped to induce a 180 degree direction change that traps the heavier dirt partcles at the bottom. Each chamber has a drain valve that is manifolded and allows rapid removal of mud with little water flow. The water gets cleaner as it passes from chamber to chamber. It then passes thru a pack of very Gray Matala media that contains a dense Biological colony of microbes that treat Ammonia, Nitrates and Nitrites.

A really neat trick is to place cloth in the filter strategically, to catch all of the extremely fine dust that passes thru even the densest media. A carefully chosen piece of cloth can produce water as clean or cleaner than what comes out of your faucet. Cloth can be mounted on a window screen frame just as screen is held. A "U" channel can be placed inside the filter to accept the framed cloth. This makes cleaning the cloth a job that only takes minutes. Ours need to be hose washed weekly, and if we go away for longer, we just leave the cloth frame out.

So, thats my quick read on Proper Filtration. My company has built over 100 of these Vertical Matala Systems over the last 20 years, and each gets better than the last. Not a single one of them has failed in any way.

In our nursery in the Arizona desert we grew Water Lilies for the market. We were in the pond water daily dividing plants, and lived in one of the dustiest places in the country. This property was covered with trees and it blews there constantly. Our 8000 gallon pond with a Vertical Matala filter system was in it's twentieth year when we left and worked as well then as the day that it was built.

I prefer to build these systems with block, over a concrete pad. The inside is sealed with a smooth sealer coating similar to EFIS stucco. The box is divided into compartments.
Dividers were earlier made of lexan, but are now made of Hardiebacker cement board which is considerably less expensive. I diamond cut slots in the walls for the dividers before sealing.
The latest design has the PVC drain piping running thru the pad and exiting at one end. Each compartment has it's own downflow drain. These are manifolded to a single pipe and directed to a low area or dry well.
The Matala media sits on raised platforms inside the box. Each media pad weighs less than two pounds and can be lifted out, hose washed, and replaced in minutes. We rotate them by cleaning only the dirtiest two each week and almost never mess with the dense gray pads that are the Bio colony.
We did shut down and go away once for three months. No-one touched the filter. The fish were fed with a modified deer feeder. When we returned, the pond was still clear, but the Matala filter was really dirty. Each pad weighed about 30 pounds and we had to flip them front to back several times while washing to get them cleaned.
I constructed a flow down wire rack to hold one pad at eye level on my fence. The mud is caught with a drain pan underneath that leads to the filter drain pipe. This makes cleaning pads a no-mess job. This pond filter was constructed against a block fence. I do not use any existing wall as part of the box to eliminate settling problems.
The filter box lid is made of Hardy Board. We are in a picky HOA. Give thorough consideration to property value and local regulations while designing a filter. With a stucco finish and paint, our pond filter looks like it belongs here. Most people think it's just a BBQ.

I'm in my seventies now and no longer do any pond construction. If you are interested in detail photos of some of these filter systems, just ask via eMail.  cmdrdick42@yahoo.com  -  where advice is always free.