Ponds and dugouts

Large dugout surrounded by trees

Ponds and dugouts are small fresh water reservoirs that are constructed to trap and store water. These reservoirs are common all over Canada. In the Prairies of Western Canada, they were an important adaptation to the stresses of drought and are called "dugouts". In other parts of the country they are more commonly referred to as "ponds".

Dugouts (and ponds) represent an important water source for rural residents. They provide water for a wide variety of uses including household uses, livestock watering, crop spraying and aquaculture.

It is important to maintain the best possible quality of water in your dugout to ensure that it is adequate for the intended uses.

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Understanding ponds and dugouts

Dugouts and ponds are miniature ecosystems, containing many diverse life forms including plants, animals and bacteria. Most of these living organisms require oxygen when they respire or breathe, so an adequate concentration of oxygen in the water is required to maintain a healthy dugout ecosystem.

The biggest consumers of oxygen in dugouts are the organisms that decompose organic material at the bottom of the dugout. When plants and animals die, they fall to the bottom and decompose. The decomposition process consumes large amounts of oxygen leading to potentially very low oxygen concentrations at the bottom of a dugout.

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Description: Typical dugout oxygen profiles

Aerated dugout: Dissolved oxygen remains constant at 8 milligrams per liter (mg/L) at a depth range between 0 to 4 meters (m).

Non-aerated dugout oxygen profile
Depth (m) Dissolved oxygen (mg/L)
0 8
1 8
2 4
3 0.5
4 0

When all the oxygen is consumed, the decomposition process continues without oxygen. This is called anaerobic decomposition and the compounds it produces cause changes in the taste, odour, and even colour of the water.

The water collected by a pond is most often the result of surface runoff. Runoff waters may bring unwanted material with them including: disease-causing organisms, plant nutrients, pesticides, decomposed plant material, suspended sediment, and contaminants such as fuels and solvents.

Good dugout management begins with sound farming practices to prevent contamination of the runoff and may extend to the treatment and improvement of poor quality pond water before its final use.