In Texas, nothing attracts wildlife and birds to your property—and keeps them coming back—like water. And few property improvements are as likely to increase your land value as a pond, lake or stock tank.
But before you get started building your pond, there are several things you need to know.
Raising Property Value
“Water structures like ponds and tanks are hot selling features,” says Mickey Nixon, Capital Farm Credit regional chief appraiser based in Lubbock. “Adding a water structure is a good way to enhance marketability and increase the value of livestock and recreational properties. That’s especially true in the Texas Hill Country and Central Texas.”
Barbara Golden, credit office president with Lone Star Ag Credit in Paris, sees ponds increasing land values in northeast Texas, as well.
“Water sources oftentimes do add value to real estate tracts for livestock purposes, as well as for recreational reasons like fishing, duck hunting and dove hunting,” Golden says.
Most rain-fed water structures increase the property value in proportion to the construction cost, according to Nixon.
“In other words, if you spend $25,000 on a pond or tank, it should enhance your property value by a commensurate amount,” he says. “That’s provided we’re not in a prolonged period of drought and the tank is not dry when a prospective buyer looks at it.”
Nixon’s fellow regional chief appraiser for East Texas, Wayne Young, points out that a well-designed pond can sometimes increase the value of a tract more than it costs. He offers the example of a tract featuring a natural drainage basin that can be dammed up cost-effectively. But the converse can be true if the land is not well-suited to pond construction.
Young often checks Google Earth historical images from dry periods to ensure a pond retains water. “Anytime I am appraising a tract and a water feature appears to be impacting the value, I look at the historical imagery,” he says.
Ponds offer aesthetic benefits, too. When you build a pond on a rural homesite, you’re enhancing the landscape, which boosts the value of the home.
Planning the Project
Define the Pond’s Purpose
Before you design your pond, define your goals. Will it be a fishing lake, a place for cattle to cool off, or a water source for birds, deer and livestock? Or maybe you want a pretty water feature that will serve as a swimming hole behind your house.
How you plan to use your pond will help you determine its proper location, depth, size, contour and other features.
Design It Right the First Time
“Starting with a well-constructed lake will save you from a great deal of problems in the long run,” says Bill Gammel, a fisheries consultant and biology instructor at Lee College in Baytown. “Redesigning a finished lake is an expensive undertaking, and one should do it right the first time.”
Doing it right can mean hiring a pond construction expert to advise you on site selection. The contractor also should be insured and capable of navigating regulations and permits.
Golden at Lone Star Ag Credit recommends contacting the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office for help.
“They can provide assistance with choosing the proper site and evaluating factors like the soil and terrain,” she says.
Doing Your Research
A number of variables can impact your construction project. You’ll want to talk to experts, understand regulations and carefully consider the following before finalizing your plans.
Water source — Surface water is owned by the state. Depending on your water source, you may need a state permit before filling your pond. If you plan to fill it from a well, you may need to obtain a permit from your local groundwater conservation district.
Topography, location and soil type — The slope of the land and the amount of available watershed for drainage and water maintenance are key to the project. The ideal soil type contains enough clay to prevent the pond from leaking.
Liners — To prevent seepage, a pond must be lined with heavy clay soil or a synthetic liner. For a clay liner, Dr. Jim Rogers, an environmental science professor at West Texas A&M University and pond building consultant, advises compacting the clay soil into a layer at least 12 inches thick for a pond up to 10 feet deep—thicker for deeper water. While he has used several types of synthetic liners, he recommends textured 40 mil HDPE, which is safer and holds bank fill better. HDPE is also more resistant to ultraviolet light and punctures from animal hooves.
Design, contour and slope — The overall design should include drains and emergency spillways for overflow. Contour is critical if you’re going to stock fish. Fish move to different depths throughout the day, notes Gammel. If you’re building a stock tank for livestock or deer, the outer banks should slope gently so the animals can ease into the water. Rogers recommends a 2- to 3-foot horizontal run for each foot of vertical drop.
Vegetation — Different types of trees and grasses attract or repel different types of creatures. Waterfowl seek tall grasses along the water’s edge for cover. Turkeys, by comparison, do not like cattails and heavy vegetation that can hide predators. Deer will be attracted to nearby food plots and appreciate the protection of bushes or trees near the pond. And dove will be drawn to a pond that’s surrounded by fine gravel and sand.
Size and depth — The pond must be sized to the property. Rogers cautions against building a pond that exceeds your needs.
“In many cases, if it’s any more than six feet deep, you’re wasting water,” says Rogers, who is also a Plains Land Bank customer. On the other hand, in the Texas Panhandle, less than five or six feet of water will not provide fish with enough thermal protection, he notes.
The per-acre cost to build a pond varies widely depending on the scale of the project and how much work you do yourself.”
Paying for the Pond
Some rural lenders will finance pond construction as an improvement loan if the landowner already has an established land loan.
The per-acre cost to build a pond varies widely depending on the scale of the project and how much work you do yourself. The larger the pond, the lower the price per acre. And if you decide to use a synthetic liner, HDPE liners generally cost 30 to 50 cents per square foot installed, says Rogers. Other expenses may include consultants’ fees, construction work, building materials, soil and vegetation.
Rogers recently designed a small, one-third-acre pond for a country home in West Texas.
“For less than $6,000, the family got a pretty little pond that doubles as a swimming and fishing hole, and it adds so much to their landscape,” Rogers says.
After your pond is built and you tally your bills, will your project have been worthwhile? You’ll know the answer when you’re fishing with your kids, watching deer drink from the pond at dawn or accepting a buyer’s offer for the place.