Thursday, June 26, 2008

To My Lovely Coworkers

I need to start this update with a little note. My coworkers have found this blog and they are pretty pleased with themselves about that! If reading this blog and breaking my stones about it is the closest thing they are getting to spending personal time outside, then I am plenty comfortable with that. I love you guys....but seriously??

At any rate, through our organizational politics, I was asked to come "assist" with a pond rehabilitation project on the PA/MD border yesterday evening. The pond is on a farm that drains to a cold water fishery - the Gunpowder River, downstream of Prettyboy Reservoir and upstream of Loch Raven Reservoir. Which is to say that it was created by building a dam across the stream and its floodplain, a practice which is now illegal in Virginia and Maryland. Ponds in these types of drainages are pretty nuanced in their ecological cost/benefit. The benefit of these habitats is that they are often in areas where the only non-riverine standing water is created by beavers, so the habitat for birds and amphibians who need standing water is very limited. When someone creates this habitat, the wildlife response is pretty immediate. In addition, manmade ponds are typically more permanent and stable habitats than beaver ponds. Which is a great thing.

On the "cost" side of these ponds are two important factors. One is thermal loading. Unless these ponds are designed exactly right, with something called a cold water discharge, these ponds serve to heat up the cold streamwater from upstream, deplete its oxygen, and send it on down to the rest of the cold water habitat. This complicates survival for trout, and many of the invertebrates on which trout feed. In this way, these ponds are no different than a parking lot next to a trout stream, which is pretty awful.

The second "cost" is even more staggering - flood hazard. Since impounding (damming) a cold water stream in many states out here is now illegal, many of these old mill ponds and bass ponds are old by default. Many were built without power equipment, and many were built using whatever material was around, including stones, concrete, stumps, bricks, sand, you name it. Any engineer will tell you that those are all things that serve to weaken a dam. And sure enough, the older and more overgrown a pond becomes, the less a landowner will maintain it. In the case of the pond I visited yesterday, the outfall pipe became clogged with logs, and the pond overtopped onto the neighbor's property....and the state road down the hill....all on its way to the clean, sandy Gunpowder River, to dump off a big load of mud and silt. Let's just say that the neighbors, the County, and the state are not pleased. Had the dam been breached, people and/or property would have been hurt.

Now, the state has "Dam Safety Standards" to prevent those types of catastrophes from occuring, but old, servicable ponds are generally exempt. However, once any major repair work is needed, the State typically requires the ponds to come into compliance with the current regulations. In fact, the state of Maryland has an inventory of every dam over 36" tall in the entire state. In the case of the pond I visited, there is a dispute over what repair work is "needed." The more work is needed, the more likely the entire pond, outfall structure, and dam will have to come into compliance with the current regulations. It's the difference between a $15,000 price tag and a $200,000 price tag. We'll see what happens. As is usually the case, numerous agencies, contractors, consultants and lawyers are already involved.

As a side note, the landowner's contractor invited me to fish the pond while I was there. Due to the heat and sun, there was no use fishing it until about 6pm, so we spent the time before that talking about how to make this pond work for birds, not just fish. Once we started fishing, the action was not really fast but produced some exciting strikes on medium poppers and topwater lures, as well as plastic tubes and crawfish. Here are a couple of my bass (in addition to the top picture) from the evening.

Say what you want - have you caught a bigger fish this week? I wanted to get his picture quickly and get him back in the water ASAP. Yes, a photographer would have been helpful.

A small but feisty guy - caught on a 2" red and black soft craw.


Tom Sorenson said...

I had to laugh - I've gone fishing many times by myself and to take pictures of fish when by yourself - it can sure be tricky! You end up getting some odd shots, sometimes! Looked like a fun trip!

T. Brook Smith said...

Great blog!

I have a blog with a few shots of fish I had to take myself.

We have similar interests and I'm going to make my way back here for sure.

I tend to have a Midwest conservation/fishing bent but I"m interested in larger issues in aquatic ecology so my blogs tend to leak outside their original themes.

I'm a professional aquatic ecologist as well so we're on the same wavelength.

Stop by some time.

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