Red Rover, Red Rover, Let's Move this Pond Over

Red Rover, Red Rover, Let’s Move this Pond Over.

By Mike Otto


            Life is great. The lake water levels are full to the spillway. Work schedule is just as full as the lakes and our house is full of grandkids. If there is more to living than this, someone please let me know.

            It seems we all tend to live between floods and droughts as we enjoy our bounties in life.

            Not long ago there was not a lake in this part of the country with enough water to launch a canoe. Today most are full. Trees that survived the dry years are healthy and thriving. Pastures have recovered. Native grasses have revived, and wildlife is having a resurgence. Lots of money has been spent on studies to determine what was happening with wildlife; as it turned out the main problem was everything needed a good drink.

            My business is all about moving dirt, but really it is more about directing water—building places to hold it, gathering more of it up, and making sure the wet stuff does not go where we do not want it. With the weather pattern around here supplying more rain in the last couple of years, work scheduling changed as well. Eight to five, six days a week went out the window and into the clouds. Work is done when conditions allow. This summer is one of those times when the weather radar is watched just as much as the fuel gauge. Machines need to be filled with fuel and greased before the sun has risen. Quitting time is when the job has been completed.

            With much hustle and hard work, we just finished a great job close to home. We wrapped this one up one hour before the rain started.

            The original call was from a very successful local business man, Len Zimmerer. His family has been in the business of buying and selling tractors for a couple of generations. In the beginning, back in the early 1960s through the early 70s, the family would find good used equipment, fix it up if needed, and then resell it. The Zimmerer’s know how to make tractors better and make a profit. Today, they have five dealerships all over north Texas. Now, when Len can get some free time, it is spent fixing up cars. He is using the same lessons taught by his father 50 years ago. His hobby boasts a good, clean, well-equipped shop with only one helper, and they work together like brothers—and when a car is finished it is ready for the showroom.

            The property had an existing pond, built in the middle of a couple of new lots. The idea was to sell the land to people wanting to get to the country. The dirt from the pond was used to build a couple of house pads, one of the entry roads, and fill in a low area that held water. It was a great idea that ended up very pretty—if you are setting up lots for homes.

            But, for Zimmerer’s purposes, he wanted the entire tract, to improve it, and set the stage as an investment he could enjoy.

The pond size was small, not very deep, and in the wrong spot—heavy on the words wrong spot.

            The pond planning process is always the same, even though every plan changes. Investigate the dirt. This pond always seemed to have some water in it and is in a part of the country that is known for good water-holding dirt. Still, a little exploration must be done. The rule is, “We do not know what is underground until we dig.” The track hoe was moved in, a couple of holes were dug, and the material was great. It was clear this pond could have been a lot bigger and it needed to be deeper.

            Next, we took a look at the watershed. It was more than good. There was a pond upstream that would need to be full before this one filled, but a good rain would do that job. The original idea was to drain the water, clean out the silt, add some depth, and make it a little larger. This has been done many times over the years and will be done many more times in the future.

            A pump was moved to the site, an intake hose was set up with a couple of 100-foot lengths of discharge pipe to push pond water to a nearby culvert. With the water almost drained, the rain started and refilled it overnight. This is not good, but all that was lost was pumping time. As luck would have it, this happened a couple of more times. No use trying to fight Mother Nature. We needed to let the spring rains settle down, and wait for a summer weather pattern to start.

            With a little time to further study the project, other options were considered. First, not to do anything; second, drain this water hole, cover it with dirt, and plant grass; third, was the original plan, clean it out and enlarge. Fourth, move it to a much better spot.

            The decision was made to cover it up and move. The new location was only 100 feet from the existing spot. We are not sure why the pond was not built there in the first place. A small ditch ran through the property there, and was a much better location. It carries all the water that falls on his property and will not need any terraces to divert any more water to the pond.  This spot will increase the size from less than a quarter of an acre to almost two full acres. That’s a much better site.


            The shoreline was staked and ready for Mr. Zimmerer to visualize it before we started moving dirt. A few adjustments were made to decrease the site slightly for access on all sides of the water. Also, the dam would be moved a little to stay away from overhead power lines.

            After doing this my whole life, it is considered part of the job to adjust before we get started. This job was no different. Also, when a job is in progress and new information is uncovered, then more changes are made. You never know what you’ll find when digging a few feet into the earth. This is the nature of all dirt work, even with a firm set of blueprints, a scope-of-work specification plan, and the best made program. Adjustments and improvements are made all the time.

            It was time to move the dozers and get to work.

            Another earthmoving concept that never changes is to hang on to topsoil. Always save the good top dirt and put it back where grass needs to grow when the job is completed. Topsoil needs to be stored as close as possible to where it will be needed, but not in the path of the equipment as construction proceeds. Driving around a pile of dirt is not smart and costs time and money. This does not seem like it could be a problem, but let’s say the dam is enlarged or the shoreline is moved. It costs more money if the topsoil must be relocated in the process. Picking a spot to stockpile topsoil is important.

            The dam on this project did not need to be very tall, most of the dirt would be spread on the low side of the property. It made the whole piece of land look a lot better and more uniform.  All this area needed the topsoil removed and stored for later use. The scraper was brought in to help with the dirt that need to be moved away from the dam and the low spots. It was just too far to push with the dozers.

The test holes we dug on this job showed good soil, but as is always the case, things change. There were a few rocks, but not many. As a matter of fact, they looked like they may have been buried there on purpose. That happens a lot more than anybody would expect.

After the excavation got to about seven feet deep, a small amount of water started to seep in. This water did not show up when test holes were dug. Some changes had to be made in the way the dirt was moved to ensure ground water did not stop us from getting the depth we wanted.    

We decided to stop excavating any deeper for the first day and start going deeper first thing the next morning to see if we could dig dirt faster than water would flow. The rest of the first day was dedicated to moving dirt within the top five feet of the pond, so as not to disturb the vein of water flowing just beneath.

            As the sun came up the next morning, the plan was to stay ahead of seeping water and excavate to at least ten feet of depth as quickly as possible, hopefully faster than the water could seep. This concept worked very well on this job—it does not always go smoothly—there can be more water coming in than we can handle by excavation, and then the dirt moving halts. We can’t efficiently scoop and dump mud on a new project. The second morning we excavated to the desired 10-foot depth, which was quickly full of cool, clear water. This could have been a disaster, but this time we got a good break. The water flow didn’t really start until we hit six feet. Our break was the water table sat at that magic six-foot depth, and the water didn’t rise more than that, which isn’t common.

            It took three more days of the same process. Dig until water starts to seep in faster than you can dig it, then we’d stop. Next morning start again, where we’d move over and excavate where water wasn’t coming in. We were able to get to our depth by using small coffer dams and digging fast, really fast. We’d have a few hours to get to depth, and water would flow. It worked out well. When the excavation was completed, as rough as it was, it was time to do a little grading of the subsoil. We were a little bit concerned that the water table would be an issue if we weren’t able to seal the pond bottom with a good layer of compacted clay soil. But, we molded and shaped all we could do with the equipment.

Next, it was time to make the topside ready for the topsoil we saved at the start of the job. We graded and sculpted, and got it shaped as planned.

            With the topsoil in place, and a lot of smoothing and grading done, all water stood inside the shoreline—where it is designed to be.

            Next, it was time to spread grass seed. On this job, spreading was done by hand. Buckets of seed and fertilizer were spread all over the topsoil and distributed as evenly as possible. Normally, we put about twice the recommended amount, especially on a small area like this. Birds eat seed, and a heavy rain could move quite a bit. No rain means limited sprouting. We wanted to mitigate the risk and see if we could establish a thick grass cover as quickly as possible.

            This landowner has a long history of success. He must also have a straight line to the Man upstairs. Just as our crew was loading up the buckets and picking up empty grass seed bags, it started to rain.

            A good rain makes us look like we really know our business. Now green grass is everywhere and the pond is almost full.

            Hard work? Yes, but we also got a lot of help from the Man upstairs. 

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