Common Dam Problems

By Garrett Lee
Tree near a pond on a nice sunny day with some clouds in the sky

A good dam goes a long way towards ensuring your pond's long-term health. Here's a list of the most common dam problems and some suggestions to avoid them. 

Trees are at the root of many dam problems

Trees on your pond dam may look pretty and provide that perfect amount of shade on your favorite fishing spot, but they are actually a major cause of leaky ponds and dam failures. Tree roots bore through the soil that creates your pond dam, creating thousands of tunnels that intertwine and go from one side of your dam to the other. While the tree is healthy and living it poses no threat of causing the dam to leak, the tree roots occupy the space “sealing the leak.”

Cedar tree on dam pond

However, if the tree ever begins to die the root system begin to decay and no longer fill these voids. This is where water can fill/ flow through these tunnels compromising the dam’s integrity and potentially cause a leak on the backside of your dam. (Read more about Planting and Retaining Trees Near Your Fish Pond)

Erosion is another common dam problem

Pond dams are inherently at risk of damage brought on by erosion, especially in the early stages after construction. If a pond dam does not have proper protection from surface runoff, it is at risk for deep channels to be cut on both the front and backsides before grass can be established. This not only creates an eyesore but also potentially causes a portion of your dam to be lower than your spillway. The right types of aquatic plants may help prevent some erosion problems.

Trees and a donkey near a stock pond

Erosion on pond dams is also common on ponds built in areas that are utilized for livestock production or have some type of livestock utilization. Overgrazing coupled with herd characteristics can spell danger for pond dams. Multiple animals wandering about back and forth grazing after a recent rain can quickly ruin the surface integrity of the dam. Keep livestock from grazing on the pond dam whenever possible.

Poor preparation, construction and or maintenance cause dam problems, too.

Poor preparation or construction of pond dam can lead to ponds that will never hold water correctly. A perennial wet area or the presence of vegetation that needs an abundance of water to survive are quick indicators of a leaky dam. Poor compaction or improper materials used in the construction of either the dam itself or its footing, the protective barrier between the pond floor and the dam, can cause seeping to occur.

Improper design of an emergency spillway can cause flooding in your pond. This flooding can allow excess flood water to flow over the dam. This action cuts trenches on both the crest and backside of your pond dam. Depending on the severity of the flood and how long it takes the water level to settle, these trenches could be end up lower than your spillway and cause more trouble later on.

Top tips for preventing dam problems.

As with most projects, proper preparation and maintenance is the key to preventing headaches down the road. Using a professional, experienced pond construction company that knows the importance of quality materials and site preparation will help to take the worries out of your construction process. Once your pond is built, it is important to keep up with the maintenance of your pond dam. This includes keeping all trees from becoming established, as well as keeping the effects of erosion at a minimum by providing soil coverage until vegetation can be established.

If there are mature trees already established on your pond dam, the best practice is to leave it alone. The root system is already spread throughout the dam and you could potentially cause a problem trying to prevent one. If you have any other questions about common dam problems feel free to contact me at

Tags: Down at the Pond, Pond Management

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