Living beside a pond or lake, or having a water feature or two, gives you a lot of opportunities to cool off on a hot summer afternoon, it’s difficult to tell if the water is safe for swimming or drinking. And unlike a swimming pool, you can’t just toss a handful of chlorine shock into the water and call it a day without destroying the local ecosystem. How can you ensure that the water is safe for swimming or drinking without relying on harsh chemicals?
Where’s the Water Coming From
Where your water comes from will determine how safe it is to swim in or drink, even after purification. Water that flows from an underground spring will be inherently cleaner and safer than a creek-fed pond that travels through or next-to a farm or feed-lot. Take some time or do some research to figure out where your water comes from and whether you need to be concerned about its source.
Now, if you’ve got a human-made pond that’s fed by tap-water from your home, feel free to skip this step because your water is already treated.
Do a Visual Examination
Next, do a visual examination of your water source. Is it clear and clean with a few fish swimming here and there, or is it choked with algae or invasive foliage? Are the fish hopping up to catch bugs from the air or are they floating dead on the surface?
A pond or lake that is full of algae or dead fish isn’t going to be safe to swim in until you make some changes. If it’s clear and clean, don’t hop in yet — move on to the next step instead.
Have the Water Tested
The most commonly used measure of freshwater quality is the level of e. Coli bacteria in the water. These bacteria appear in human and animal waste and can make you sick if you ingest them. Have your water tested in a professional lab, because e.coli levels of more than 235 colony forming units per 100 milliliters of water usually mean that there are other diseases causing bacteria in your water as well.
Protect the Area Around Your Pond
The area around your pond plays a huge role in how clean the water is. Don’t use fertilizers or other chemicals near your pond. They’ll get picked up in stormwater runoff and lead to algae blooms that can clog up your water feature and make it unsafe for swimming and drinking.
Consider Investing in Biofilters
One company is working on creating swimming pools and other water features that have water so clean you can drink it without the need for any extra steps. Most of the ponds and pools they install use natural plants to filter the water. These plants control the buildup of elements like carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in the water, which would make it dangerous to swim in. The only problem with these plants is that in order to keep the water clean, they’re taking up 20% of the pool or pond’s surface, leaving you less room to swim.
The company is currently working on a biofilter that will be able to accomplish the same level of cleanliness without the need for plants. They will, in theory, remove the same phosphorus and nitrogen from the water, which will starve any algae growing the pond.
Remove Foliage Regularly
Using plants as biofilters can help keep your water features clean enough to swim in, but that doesn’t mean you should leave every plant that grows on or on your pond. Some plants make efficient filters, while others contribute to the problem. Keep things like hornwort and water lettuce which work to clean the water and remove other plants that are clogging up your water feature.
You don’t need to weed your pond every week but it’s a good idea to clean it out a couple of times a year to keep the water clear. You might find yourself cleaning it more often during the warm spring and summer months when higher temperatures make things grow faster.
Use a UV Sterilizer or Clarifier
If you’re worried about bacteria in your pond, consider investing in a UV sterilizer or clarifier. These devices work by passing water through a tube next to a UV bulb. The UV light kills off any harmful bacteria as well as microscopic algae without the use of chemicals. It’s more effective than the UV light coming from the sun because it’s concentrated enough to kill things off.
Whether you choose a clarifier or a sterilizer will depend on the size of your pond and your specific needs. Clarifiers have a higher flow rate so they tend to only kill algae since it takes longer for UV light to kill bacteria and viruses. If you’re worried about e.coli or other waterborne diseases, invest in a sterilizer instead.
Purify Before Drinking
If you follow all these steps, your pond or other water feature should be safe enough to swim in, but we still recommend that you take steps to purify any natural water source before drinking it no matter how clean it looks. You don’t need harsh chemicals to purify your water though. You can purify any natural water source by boiling, using UV light or other filters.
Even if your water looks clean, it could still be harboring microscopic bacteria or viruses that could make you sick. If you’re planning on drinking water from your local pond or lake, make sure you purify it first.
At this point, all that’s left is for the weather to warm up enough that you can dive in and enjoy all of your hard work. Be careful, especially if you live in places like Florida where alligators and snakes are known to frequent ponds and lakes, but if your pond is clean and clear enough that you can see all the way to the bottom, feel free to dive in and enjoy the water during the hot summer months.
It’s hard work to maintain a pond or water feature so it’s safe to swim in or drink, but it’s worth it if you’re trying to avoid harsh chemicals like chlorine that you find in most swimming pools.