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Retention ponds are more than just pretty amenities

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

It's almost unheard for a residential community to be developed without a pond these days, and homeowners with a view of it generally pay extra for the privilege.

They're marketed as amenities, but these ponds are about a lot more than aesthetics. Retention ponds are the favored method of developers for meeting state regulations on water quality and stormwater runoff.

"The marketing creates a misconception,” said Ben Powell, Clemson Extension's area natural resources agent for Georgetown and Horry counties. Part of his job is teaching communities how to properly manage retention ponds.

"They begin managing the pond for the purposes they had in mind — the appearance, recreational opportunities, attracting wildlife. They are completely unaware of its real purpose and are not given any guidance by the developer," Powell said.

When the ponds start experiencing problems, such as excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae, or a die-off of the fish population, Powell gets called in. He has made presentations on retention pond management to more than 30 communities in the last 18 months and did consultations for about 60 others.

Bo Ives, chairman of the Sierra Club's Winyah Group, said Powell helped his community address problems its retention pond had with water quality and erosion.

"We were using expensive chemicals that weren't working, because we were treating the wrong problem," Ives said.

Powell put them on track and gave them practical, effective solutions.

Algae and plant growth are the most common retention pond problems Powell deals with, he said. They're caused by nutrient runoff from pet waste, fertilizers and feeding of ducks in and around the pond. Installing vegetative buffers solves the problem.

Shoreline erosion is also a common problem. Steeper banks on the pond mean larger parcels, but also make ponds more susceptible to erosion. Powell recommends using deeply-rooted plants around the shoreline.

Powell also frequently dispenses advice on the best kinds of fish to stock in ponds, how to get rid of odors and cloudiness in the water, and whether fountains are needed. He also tells homeowners associations to start a fund for periodic dredging — an expensive and necessary part of pond maintenance.

Powell will give a free presentation on retention pond management in Myrtle Beach on April 30 at 8:30 a.m. It's open to homeowners association leaders, property managers and landscapers.

To register, call Powell, 365-6715, ext. 112.

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