Tips for dealing with ice and winter ponds

By Bonnie Dailey - Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District

Winter doesn’t officially start until Dec. 21, 2017 but as we all know, winter doesn’t obey dates on a calendar and Buckeye Chuck and Punxsutawney Phil are notoriously fickle in their predictions. As I am writing this, we have been enjoying unseasonable fall weather which has given us time to enjoy a few more days for tidying up vegetable gardens and flower beds as well as setting up outdoor holiday lights. This weather is also pretty kind to pond owners around the county as we haven’t really haven’t had an extended cold period and plentiful rain has brought water levels back up after the dry fall.

The bottom line is that winter is looming, and no matter how many warmer than average days we experience in the next few months, we are likely to shiver our way through a couple of weeks’ worth of sub-freezing temperatures. Brrrrr! As a conservation organization providing assistance to pond owners in Delaware County, we find that most concerns about ponds involve worries about summer fish kills from either lack of oxygen, lowered water levels, or turbidity — the cloudiness of the water. Once the temperatures drop in autumn, the phone calls relating to problems of the aquatic nature wind down until spring when algae and other aquatic plants become enemy number one again and spring rains churn the water, making it brown rather than blue.

We assume the lack of worry on the part of pond owners most likely stems from the fact that ponds are by and large a warm weather oasis. Unless you like ice skating or ice fishing, most ponds become background features from December through March, and once covered with ice and snow fade into the out of sight, out of mind category.

While we recognize that summer creates its own array of issues affecting a pond, we encourage pond owners to understand that winter, too, comes with a list of possible obstacles to overcome. Nearly all ill effects on ponds during the winter are directly or indirectly caused by ice buildup on the surface of the water. Many people worry about fish getting “too cold” when the water temperature drops, but outside of being trapped within a solid block of ice, fish are pretty resilient to the near-freezing mercury levels each winter.

Ice, on the other hand, can destroy structures and result in oxygen crashes that kill nearly all fish if the conditions are right… or wrong depending on your point of view. Besides damaging docks, boats, and anything else stuck in it, ice also can seal off a pond’s surface, greatly reducing the transfer of atmospheric oxygen into the water which fish need to survive. When snow covers the ice and blocks sunlight, oxygen producing plants vital to the survival of fish are rendered inoperative and the chances for a winter fish kill increase significantly. Using aeration systems, agitators, or old fashioned elbow grease to keep areas of a pond ice free can help keep dissolved oxygen levels elevated in the winter. If ice does form and becomes snow covered, safely clearing snow from sections of the ice will at least allow enough sunlight to penetrate so that aquatic plants can photosynthesize and create oxygen.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife has an excellent publication entitled “Ohio Pond Management Handbook” which you can download from our website at If you have questions about pond construction or pond maintenance, please call us at 740-368-1921 or stop by our office at 557 A Sunbury Road, Delaware.

By Bonnie Dailey

Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District

Bonnie Dailey is the deputy administrator of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District.

Bonnie Dailey is the deputy administrator of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District.