Penn State Extension offers education, testing for earthen-pond owners

July 28, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new grant will enable Penn State Extension to help earthen-pond owners understand and manage aquatic plant and algae problems and to provide them with free water testing.

Pond owners can register for a webinar, titled “Addressing Nuisance Aquatic Plant and Algae Problems Through Pond Water Quality Testing,” which will be offered three times — at 7 p.m. Aug. 13, at 2 p.m. Sept. 15 and at 7 p.m. Oct. 13. The sessions will cover the same content, and each is open to as many as 75 landowners with earthen ponds or lakes larger than 0.25 acres.

“More than half of the pond and lake owners surveyed by Penn State Extension have reported nuisance levels of aquatic plants and algae,” said Bryan Swistock, senior water resources extension associate.

“Data on aquatic herbicide use in Pennsylvania suggests that various forms of planktonic and filamentous algae are the predominant problems. These problems can become more serious if algae capable of producing dangerous toxins take over the pond.”

Swistock said the one-hour webinar will include education on pond measurements, nuisance aquatic plants and algae, harmful algae blooms, relationships between water quality and plant and algae growth, and best management practices to improve water quality and reduce nuisance plant and algae growth.

Participants will learn how to collect a water sample from their pond or lake and submit it to the Penn State Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory. The lab will analyze each sample for pH, total dissolved solids, alkalinity, nitrate, phosphate, hardness, iron, manganese, aluminum and sulfate.

After pond owners receive water test results, Penn State Extension will offer a series of follow-up webinars, during which extension educators will help participants interpret their water test reports and provide recommendations for resolving excessive nutrients or other water quality problems in their pond or lake.

While most pond and lake algal growth forms are harmless, certain types of blue-green algae can produce toxins that can cause injury or death to animals or humans who interact with the water, Swistock explained. These blue-green algae, such as Microcystis and Anabaena, have important implications for pond and lake water management and usually become noticeable during mid- to late-summer.

“More than 80 toxins produced by these bacteria can cause noxious odors, kill aquatic life and cause serious illnesses in humans and animals,” Swistock said. “These factors affect pond water for fishing, swimming, irrigation or animal consumption and could severely degrade the aesthetic appearance of a pond.”

In 2015, Penn State Extension used a Pennsylvania Water Resources Research Center grant to train educators on harmful algae blooms. These educators created educational materials for the public and surveyed ponds and lakes across the state. Their survey of 92 bodies of water encompassing more than 700 acres in 23 Pennsylvania counties found harmful algae present in 18% of the water tested.

Since the 2015 project, interest and inquiries among owners and users of ponds and lakes have increased dramatically, Swistock noted. In 2019, Penn State Extension received nearly 400 phone calls and emails about pond and lake management — more than half related to harmful algae or nuisance aquatic plants.

“Pennsylvania contains thousands of natural and man-made ponds and lakes, so clearly there is a need for this education,” Swistock said. “Penn State Extension has more than 30 years of experience in providing educational workshops or webinars for thousands of pond and lake owners, and this program will continue that proud tradition.”

The Pennsylvania Water Resources Research Center and the U.S. Geological Survey provided a grant for the webinars and water testing.

The webinars and pond testing are free, but preregistration is required and is limited to 75 households per webinar. To register, visit or call 877-345-0691.


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Last Updated July 28, 2020