black pond water

marycontrary(z6aCA)October 30, 2009

Hello All,

Background: I have an 11'x 18' pond that is 3 feet deep with a small creek and waterfall. I have a submersible Oase Powermax 15000 pump and an Oase Bio Clear 10 filter. I figure a surface area of 26.3 ft(?)- no bottom drain. I have about 32 goldfish, a couple of Shubunkin and 2 Wakin. The pond has been up and running for seven years--with tiny fish at first, now they are about 6 to 8 inches in length. I clean the filters about every 6 weeks. Unfortunately there is a huge, beautiful maple tree right next to the pond. I skim the leaves off the pond as best as I can and this year I bought tree netting to cover most of the pond and catch what I could but always some fall into the pond and sink before I get them out.

Problem: This year my husband helped me and we took the netting off and the water looked BLACK and I couldn't see any fish at all. The filter was really clogged with muck--as usual and as usual it had been 6 weeks since I had cleaned them. I thought all my fish were dead and felt just SICK. I cleaned the filters (4 fine and coarse filter foam pads) and tested the waterI have a slight upward slope I can only overflow the pond to dilute the water which I did. The ammonia level was 3.0 mg/l and pH 8.5, but fish are still alive--What caused the black water and how can I stop this whole problem from happening again? There is a lot of muck and leaves and pine needles on the bottom of the pond, built up over the 7 years, even though I try to skim off the surface frequently. I don't know how I would ever get all the fish out or what I would put them in If I drained the pond--HELP please as I really am attached to my fish. By the way I have water lilies, and water iris and some unidentified rushes growing in the muck and thriving actually.

I would greatly appreciate any help or suggestions.

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bubbalove(7 Central AL)

The black water is probably tannins from the leaves decaying.

What I would suggest is a professional pond cleaning (unless it's something you can do). When I clean a pond I put the fish in 20gal. tubs with battery powered aeration and a net over the top to keep them from jumping out.

There will be a lot of 'gunk' at the bottom of the pond. Pumping the water out and removing the gunk will be a chore. Think about a three person job. Where will the water be pumped? Where will the gunk go? (compost pile?)

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2009 at 12:30PM
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Thank You Bubbalove for your good and practical advice. I think this is all I can do. One question--If I drain the pond and clean out all the muck and then refill all the water--do I need to do anything to it before putting the fish back in? Seems like the new/fresh water might be a problem. We live in a very small town (3,200 pop) with our own town water dept. but I don't know what chemicals they might add to our water supply. Also, how long can I safely leave the fish in their temporary tub/horse trough before putting them back in the cleaned pond?
Thank you again for your response.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2009 at 1:32PM
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Let me say that "chore" is an understatement . . . I've got a 850 gal pond (9' x 11', 3' deep) that I spent 3 days cleaning and re-setting to fix a multitude of problems (excess debris, excess rocks/gravel, overgrown plants, loose rocks, etc), but then again, it was just me and I took the pond all the way down to the liner.

When I cleaned out my pond, I setup an inflatable kiddie pool in my basement (8' diameter) with an aquarium air bubbler, and used an external water pump to pump water out of the pond and into the pool (I put it in the basement because then I didn't have to worry about a predator tearing a hole in the pool). I then moved my potted plants into the pool, and then proceeded to drain the pond using a sump pump and discharge hose into the back yard. I used the sump pump because I had it available, and having the float valve made it easy to turn it on or off, in case a fish got too close to the intake. Smallish debris also didn't phase it so I didn't have to worry about the pump or hose getting clogged.

Once most of the water was pumped out (and there was no place for the fish to hide), it was time to get the fish out of the pond and into their temporary living quarters. The lowered water level made this much easier, and I used some 5-gal buckets to move them from place to place. After that, I dug a hole in the debris in the bottom larger than the pump, put the pump in this hole, and then proceeded to drain out every last ounce of water that I could easily get - this also allowed me to see if I missed any fish in the initial catch. I also had a hose with me so that I could hose down the sides and get some of the smaller, floating muck taken care of by the pump discharge.

At this point, you'll be standing in a big, muck-filled hole in the ground. Congratulations! Now the real work begins. Any overgrown plants that could be easily reached were dealt with first. If I wanted to save them then I took them out and stuck them in the pool. Any that I didn't care about got thrown onto the compost pile. I used a plastic scoop (3-quart horse-feed scoop from a farm supply store - flat bottom, rounded sides, integrated handle, plastic so that I wouldn't damage the liner) to scoop out the muck and debris and dumped it in a pile outside of the pond - wheelbarrow or garden cart would be good if you just want to dump it into the compost. Periodically I would hose down the pond walls to clean off any extra gunk and then pump it back out with the sump pump - this made it easier to see/work with since scooping out the muck caused any remaining water to turn into an impenetrable black morass that made it impossible to see what you were doing. Once as much of the debris is removed as possible, I then hosed everything down one last time and pumped it back out as a final "rinse".

The above took me a full day to do. Now you need to put everything back together: replace any rockwork that was taken out, re-fill the pond and treat the water for chlorine (if necessary. This was day 2 for me), let it circulate for a couple hours or a day to get the last remaining debris/chemicals to dissipate/filter/settle out (there won't be much - I had probably 2 cups worth when all was said and done, and I didn't worry about it), replace/re-pot the plants, and then finally move the fish into their newly-cleaned home (day 3). be sure to treat them as brand new arrivals, getting them used to the new water temp and parameters first.

When I cleaned out the pond, I had cleaned only the pond - I didn't touch the filter at all. Only when the pond had been up and running for a week did I cleanout the filter. For an overpopulated pond like mine (50+ goldfish. I inherited the pond and fish from the previous occupants of my house), the water parameters stayed at 0 afterwards, and the cleanout didn't cause an algae bloom, either, but I can't guarantee that your pond will react the same. It was also the first time I did anything like this, so it's quite possible the above is not the most expedient/efficient way to do this.

Good luck with everything (sorry the response is so long)!
- Mike

    Bookmark   October 30, 2009 at 1:57PM
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bubbalove(7 Central AL)

I use a product I get locally to remove chlorine, I am sure there are plenty out there on-line. Determine how many gallons are in the pond and follow directions.

The fish should be fine in the tubs for a long time with no feeding and plenty of oxygen (two days). I wouldn't use a new 'horse trough' if it has that zinc type coating, an old one with algae would be fine.

Do a thorough pond cleaning, get all of the gunk out, but don't scrub the sides/liner, you have beneficial bacteria living there. After cleaning everything you may find that when you turn your pump back on it blows out a bunch of gunk. This is OK, it will settle and also has bacteria to help re-populate your pond.

When moving the fish make sure the water temp feels the same, to you, with your hand in the water. If not, slowly add water to the buckets/trough to adjust the temp.


    Bookmark   October 30, 2009 at 1:58PM
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Hello timbersmith,
Thank you so much for your very helpful post. I really appreciate the detail, as I have never drained my pond, and am nervous about doing it. The kiddie pool is a great suggestion, and I do have raccoons here, so although I don't have a basement I do have a garage where I can keep my fish. Thank you again and I will need all the luck possible

    Bookmark   October 31, 2009 at 12:12PM
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There is a company I like and have good results from called Aquascapes. They are wholesale only, but have distributors all over the US. Check out their website for a local distributor. You are looking for a product they sell called AquaClearer. There is a Dry - for maintaining a strong biological balance, Extreme cleans and balances for fish load, leaves, sludge, and unwanted debis, reducing ammonia and nitrites, there is a cold water formula also. The rep will be able to help you determine which formula is best for you. Good luck.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2009 at 9:17PM
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Once you get your pond, stream and falls cleaned and spring and summer come around again, you should looking into getting a pond vaccum of some kind. I use a simple shop vac after I have drained my stocktanks to remove the rest of the gunk from the bottom. I also have a simple pond vac that works with suction that I do weeking cleanings of the bottom.

If they are no gravel or rocks in your pond it makes for an easier time when cleaning. I also do annual cleanouts in the spring because I do not have bottom drains in my stocktanks. The fish will usually have a big spawn after a cleanout.

The only chemical I use is the declor.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 9:15AM
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Thank You dynamite1959 and mammasue. I appreciate all the good tips each of you have given me. I have the nitrates and ph where it should be and have been getting the leaves out a little each day so as not to get too much "gunk" coming up from the bottom at one time. I will clean the filters much oftener, and hope things continue. I have never used any chems in the pond, but thanks for the good info. And again thanks to bubbalove and timbersmith as I appreciate the tips and excellent step by step directions on what I will eventually have to do.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 1:25PM
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Mary you are doing great in netting out the debris. Next please do some partial water changes with a dechlorinater added to protect your fish. No more then 20% twice a week for the next few weeks. If you can continue with this your fish will be in a better condition come spring.

I do not recommend draining the pond totally and removing the fish unless absolutely necessary. For me this would be rebuilding the pond or if some some toxin was introduced in to the water.

In the future you will need to do the work of a skimmer and bottom drain. That means netting out or vacuuming the debris out of your pond. Pine needles are especially tough as they are acidic and can create problems with your pond PH. You can add a skimmer pretty easily and reduce most of you debris problems and a quick pond vacuum every 6 weeks accomponied by partial water changes should get your water in good condition. The water changes will freshen the water as you fish are basically using the pond as a toilet and almost all ponds even with good filtration require some water changes.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 3:13AM
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