RetroFit Your Pond for Fish

7 minutes read

Many folks come into the store with desperate looks on their faces and woeful tales of a favorite fish that has met his maker. They don’t understand what happened to their friend and come to us for answers. The very first thing we ask is, have you tested your water for pH, ammonia or nitrites? A concentration (or any measure of) these two substances is dangerous to fish.

The nitrifying cycle must be in place to keep ammonia and nitrites continually converting to nitrates so that the water remains safe for fish and other aquatic life. Sounds difficult to make this happen? Not really. There are two beneficial bacteria that need to be present in the water system to convert ammonia and nitrites. If you think of a pond as a really large aquarium you’ll get a better picture. Aquarium life cannot exist for any length of time without a bio-filter. That’s where these two bacteria breed. The pond, no matter how careful you are to recreate nature, needs this system also if you plan to have fish.


"I Was Told I Didn’t Need a Bio-filter"

Have whoever told you that you didn’t need a biofilter to tell that to the fish that just died. Ponds are part of the landscape and most the time folks will ask their landscaper to build one for them. The landscaper, unless he (or she) understands the purpose of a biofilter, will do his best to recreate nature with so many beautiful results. Landscapers have been taught in the past that natural filtration is all that is needed in a pond - to let Mother Nature handle it. The results are beautiful but, down the road, deadly to aquatic life. Mother Nature would never place as many fish in as little water as we do in our ponds. Mother Nature has seen to it that her lakes and ponds are continually fed with fresh water. Our ponds recirculate the same water over and over again, creating a "sewer" of sorts. The biofilter is necessary to help Mother Nature with this kind of overload.

The Art of Retrofitting the Pond

Our customers are the people with these beautiful but deadly "time bombs" with insufficient biofiltration. These are the folks that bring in that once lively little goldfish and water samples that test high in ammonia and nitrites. For them there is light at the end of the tunnel and a way to change their systems to support aquatic friends.

WE can retro-fit your pond. It’s a matter of scheduling the work.

YOU can retro-fit your pond — and save yourself some money. Turn it into a weekend project. Now, when the weather is cool but not too cold, one could not ask for better working conditions! It’s not difficult to install a biofilter system with a bottom drain to make it easier on you and a cleaner system for the fish. Here’s how:

How to Retro-Fit an Existing Liner Pond with a Bottom Drain

Don’t be afraid of the bottom drain. They DO NOT leak when installed correctly. Some people fear "putting a hole" in their liner. We’ve installed many and we’ve seen NO leaks in properly installed bottom drains in 45 mil EPDM rubber liners.

There are 2 types of bottom drains that we suggest you install. One has 2" plumbing and an anti-vortex plate. It’s most often used on ponds where the fish are under 8 inches in size. It’s design will not allow small fish to be sucked into the drain. It’s only draw-back is that leaves will be caught on the anti-vortex plate, making periodic leaf cleaning with a net necessary.

The other type has 3" plumbing. It has a dome that sits on top of the drain allowing a 2" opening around the bottom of the dome. It’s very efficient at removing leaves and other large debris, however, its design allows small fish to be sucked into it.

There is a third type of bottom drain called an inverted vaccuum drain that is really not a true bottom drain. It looks like a drain turned upside down and isn’t as effective as the 2" or 3" drains that we prefer. It has some merit but your plumbing is exposed inside the pond very much like when you use a submersible pump.

Installation of the 2" Drain

Remove your fish and plants. Fall weather is working with you. The fish are becoming less active and, since it’s not too hot, aeration should not be a problem. Remove them and place them in a holding tank. Sturdy rubber tubs filled with pond water will work or you can rent a 300 gallon tank from us. Also remove the rocks that hold in your liner. In most cases you’ll only need to remove 1/2 the rock from around the pond.

Install the drain as far away from the waterfall or water return as possible. The drain should be installed at the lowest part of the pond so some slight additional excavation may be necessary.

Pull back the liner, exposing the soil underneath. Dig a hole about 1 ft. square (that’s where your drain will go) and dig a trench big enough for laying pvc piping from the drain, over to the edge of the pond and up to the outside of the pond. Install the drain and the plumbing. Backfill with soil around the drain and plumbing then tap solid.

The 2" drain has 2 gaskets and 6 screw holes. One gasket will go underneath the liner. Carefully pull the liner back into place. You will need to locate the screw holes on the bottom drain by feeling through the liner. Tap the screw holes with a nail. Fit the other gasket on the outside of the liner, lining up the holes on the gasket with the holes in the liner. Using the 6 screws, install the face plate over the gasket. Cut out the liner inside the drain opening. That’s it. You’re finished except for replacing the rock.

Should you decide to try the installation of the bottom drain yourself you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results. As always, we are here to answer any questions and to go over the steps of installation with you.

Installing a bottom drain is, in our opinion, the best thing you can do for yourself and your pond. It’s the preferred method of keeping a clean system. It frees you from the constant bending over associated with weekly cleanings of the pond. Bottom drains when combined with a good bead filter will turn your weekly pond cleaning experience into a happy chore. Mostly, however, this system cleans up the environment so your fish stay as healthy as possible while requiring very little maintenance from you. The bottom drain is not the only component necessary.

The Pump

You must have an outside pump to use a bottom drain. There are many sizes available, including one that is so low in amperage that it can save you on your power bill more than the cost of the pump over a period of two seasons. The pump is sized to the size of your pond and we would have to sit down with you and look at it very closely.

The BioFilter

The vortex system is a great bio-building filtration system. It’s size is not easily hidden, being 4 to 5 times the size of a comparable bead filter unit. Installation can be difficult because it requires the top of the vortex chambers to be level with the top of the pond water necessitating an elevation where the pond will be higher than the location of the filters. It also requires hands-on cleaning of the brushes and other media.

The bead filter, in our opinion, is the easiest, best system to use. On the outside it seems to work the same as a sand filter for a swimming pool. Inside, however, is another story. The unit can be placed virtually anywhere as long as the pump is strong enough to pull the water and still have the power to backwash the filter. The bead filter is available in a variety of sizes measured in cubic feet of beads. The more beads the filter holds, the more area where the good bacteria can grow. Fish load and pond size are important issues when sizing a bead filter.  

The advantage you have as a our customer is that we will sit down with you and go over your pond system, help you select the correct "hardware" and show you how YOU can install it. What you’ll end up with is a healthier environment and an easier system.

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