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Saving the Habitat
Nature Preserve: Dredging ponds extends their lives

By Curt Yeomans

The Big Pond at the William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve in Morrow is not living up to its name these days.

A month ago, the three-acre pond was filled with water. Now, the water is a small pool occupying less than a quarter of that space. The pool is in a corner of the pond's space, so wildlife such as fish, turtles, frogs and snakes will continue to have a place to live.

Bid Pond and the smaller, neighboring, Island Pond, were drained of much of their water last month, so construction crews could dredge a total of 13,750 cubic yards of sediment that has been deposited in the two ponds over the years.

The sediment has been deposited by the springs that also feed water into the ponds, and dredging them will "guarantee an increased life span" for the bodies of water, said Stephanie Berens, the preserve's manager.

The project is being funded through a partnership between the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Land and Water Conservation Fund and Clayton County's government. The Department of Natural Resources gave the preserve a $200,000 matching grant, with the county offering up the same amount to pay for the project, Berens said.

"Unless you dredge ponds occasionally, they will go through a process called succession," Berens said. "The ponds will eventually fill up with sediment, and turn into a marsh. You would then, eventually, have grass and shrubs growing in there. The shrubs would, someday, give way to hardwoods, and it would become just another part of the forest."

The dredging is designed to remove 12,500 cubic yards of sediment from Big Pond as well as 1,250 cubic yards from Island Pond, Berens said. She also said she expects the process of dredging and refilling the spring-fed ponds will take approximately two months to complete.

Until the project is finished, the section of the preserve's trail that goes between the bodies of water and Reynolds Road have been closed so construction equipment can move around in that area. A detour route has been set up that takes hikers around the other side of the ponds.

Berens said the grant proposal for the project was written in 2002, and the time since then has been spent on getting approval from the Department of Natural Resources and Clayton County commissioners, as well as getting permits approved for construction. "It's something we've been waiting for a while to see come to fruition, so we're very excited that it's underway," she said.

This is the first time, in at least 20 years, that there has been dredging at the preserve. Big Pond was dredged in the 1980s, but none of the other five ponds have ever been dredged, Berens added. The ponds were created in the 1930s by the preserve's namesake.

In some cases, like the preserve's Woodland Pond, the pond is far enough back in the woods that it cannot be easily reached by construction equipment, Berens said. As a result, the forest will eventually reclaim Woodland Pond, and it will cease to exist as a body of water, she said.

The bodies of water are important to the preserve's ecosystem, because they serve as habitats for wildlife, such as Red-Earred and Yellow-Bellied Slider turtles, Largemouth Bass, Grass Carp, Water Snakes and frogs, Berens said. As the water was drained from the pond, the wildlife gravitated toward the small, deeper pools of water, left behind so the wildlife would have a habitat in the water.

"They need it [water] as part of their habitat," Berens said. "Because of the other ponds we have here, it's not like they are out of luck. The geography of the bottom of the pond is great, though. Even though you have shrunken their habitat, it's like a large fish tank."

Anthony Nievera, president of Delmonico Restoration and Development, the Atlanta-based dredging company, said work has been completed on Island Pond and crews are beginning to work on Big Pond. It will take about three weeks to excavate the preserve's largest pond, he said. Once the excavated sediment has dried out, it will be taken to the Clayton County landfill in Lovejoy.

Because the ponds are fed by springs on the preserve's grounds, construction crews have to deal with the issue of water continually flowing into the ponds during the excavation of sediment, Berens and Nievera said.

"For the most part, we have been channeling the water away from the excavation area," Nievera said. "We've also utilized timber mats. They function like ordinary mats, and they keep the equipment from getting stuck in the [wet] sediment."

While the sight of two largely empty ponds might be jarring for some people, Berens said, they need to think of it in terms of the big picture -- what it will mean for the future of the ponds.

"If I couldn't envision the end result, it would be weird to see them like this," she said. "But, because of the fact that this is for the health of the ponds, I'm OK with it."