Urban Pool-to-Pond Conversion – Two-Year Progress Report

We’re writing on-going articles about the many aspects of this urban permaculture project in a Mediterranean climate, here in California, now two years underway. Today’s article: pool-to-pond conversion — complete!

by Stephanie Ladwig-Cooper

My husband and I have been actively working on an urban 2/3 acre permaculture project for two years this month. We began the design and subsequent installation at a residence in October of 2009 and it continues in multiple phases today. As we complete the swimming pool to aquaculture pond conversion, and reflect upon our progress thus far, we would like to share our experiences — the trials, corrections and successes made along the way and to basically let more people know about this Mediterranean climate permaculture project.

One thing to note about our ability to share this project: we will not be able to give tours to the local public. Respecting our client’s wish for privacy is very important to us so we will not be naming them or where the project is located. We could look at this as an unfortunate situation, having restrictions placed on the sharing of resources and information (especially when we feel a project is important to local food security). Instead we chose to turn a potential problem into a solution… we will write photo essays of the project and post them online so the global community can share in this information. So, with our fair share in mind I’ve been very busy getting all of our photos and notes together.

Click for larger view

Below is a short list of what the project entails (including the mind map above), a tiny synopsis of what we’ve done so far as well as a few photos of the pool to pond conversion. More posts will be coming soon and please feel free to comment if you have questions. This is an incredible project to work on and we’d love to connect with more people about it.

Project completion will include an integration of the following elements and systems:

  • Conversion of ~22,000 gallon swimming pool to aquaculture pond. The pond receives 2x filtered rooftop rainwater, via both a large first flush device and a 55 gallon sand filter. The roof and pond water has been tested repeatedly. Importantly, heavy metals were found to be non-detectable. Seasonal pond overflow moves passively into a rainwater mulch basin in one area of a forest garden. The rooftop sand filter, biofilter and pond completed October 2011. Stocking in progress.
  • Extensive rooftop rainwater harvesting. Passive collection from all downspouts to infiltration trenches and basins located throughout the property for storage in soil.Evolving, new gutters and first flush device installed 2011.
  • Raised pathways throughout. Rainwater allowed to flow from slightly elevated pathways to sunken garden beds — mostly finished.
  • Extensive forest gardens. The canopy, sub-canopy and subsequent edible layers planted in staged succession. In progress.
  • Coppice gardens. Onsite harvesting of wood product for multiple use. In progress.
  • Chicken pasture. Rotation schedule — potential for duck integration. In progress.
  • Greenhouse/aquaponic system. Designed, built and maintained by property owner — rooftop rainwater from structure collected into existing rainwater harvesting system. Evolving at owner’s pace.
  • Outdoor solar station. Pond pump, greenhouse aquaponic system, other outdoor needs — begin building 2011.

A Permaculture Property Guidebook is being compiled for our clients so they have detailed records of what has been completed and how, as well as what to expect in the future — including budget history and projections. The guidebook also contains concept maps, final designs and overlays and (the vital component) comprehensive management plans for forest garden succession, rainwater harvesting systems, pond and biofilters, chicken pasturing, crop harvesting, insectary calendars and more.

We began the project with our clients in 2009 by setting goals during many design meetings. It is their first desire to ensure a sustainable source of irrigation water for their property should municipal water sources ever become a problem. Growing diverse crops and ensuring a surplus for family, neighbors, friends and community is also very important to them.

Utilizing Water, Access, Structures as our guide for the design process we began by designing extensive water harvesting systems and raised pathways which weave throughout the entire property. We then installed the complete rooftop rainwater harvesting system and integrated the system with the overall forest garden design. We also planted ~25 canopy and sub-canopy fruit and nut trees for the forest garden and began planting the first succession of initial plant species (to help out-compete the existing legacy of ‘weeds’). Later in 2010 we branched off to convert the unused swimming pool into a habitat, plant and fish producing pond system. The conversion of the pool took over one year to complete and now, today, we are back to working with forest garden succession and solar station design.

FYI: My husband has performed 90% of the manual labor for this project himself, about 3 days a week — off and on — as he worked other landscaping jobs. He was meticulous to video and photograph every stage of the pool to pond conversion and we now have over 500 images to sort through for this phase of the project alone. Picking and choosing which images to publish is going to pose a real challenge but we hope you’ll enjoy the ones we chose to begin this ongoing project article.

Pool to Pond Conversion – a sample of photos

Unused and unchlorinated swimming pool before pond conversion, 2009,
showing 55 gallon drum ‘filtering’ 300 gallons per day. The pool had been refilled
regularly with freshwater for years as well as stocked with a few catfish.

Pond after biofilter installation, 2011, with tomatoes and
juncus growing in the first chamber.

Biofilter 9-2011 (tomatoes harvested and removed) filtering over
5000 gallons per day. There are 3 chambers water fills until the weir, slightly
angled toward the pond, allows the filtered water to fall about 3 feet
into the pond -aiding the oxygenation of the water.

Steps during the conversion process…

Steps after…. The steps create a diverse habitat for floating,
marginal and bog plant species.

Swim step before….

Swim step after…. Habitat for floating, marginal and bog plant species
here too. Note the water lily floating nearby; the roots are at the very bottom
which is well over 10 feet deep.

Pond eco-infrastructure — creating as much edge for habitat as possible.
The more edge that is created in the water and surrounding the pond the more
diverse the system will become. The amount and size of available edge effects
the overall sustainability of the pond too -particularly a swimming pool conversion
as most pools intentionally lack surface area for living things to grow upon!

September 2011 — pond water is clear; animals and plants all seem quite happy.

Two adult catfish swimming among the submerged Anacharis. The catfish
were removed while the pool was emptied and the eco-infastructure built.
At this point there are only catfish and mosquito fish living in the pond
and all are breeding very well! Forage fish will be stocked soon and
building up to add predator fish next year. Small, slow solutions….

Catfish feeding off Anacharis. Besides the submerged plant, Anacharis, there
are floating plants like water lilies of various flower color, yellow flowering
water fringe and parrots feather. Marginal and bog plants are planted in the
shallow steps — juncus, horsetail and pickeral rush to start. Many more
plants (edibles like water chestnuts) will be planted in and along
side the pond over time.

Yellow, pink and white water lilies.

Just for fun: water lilies after a quarter-sized hail storm.

Further Reading: