How do you make a lake?

Is it really so easy to make a lake?

I recently read a story about some wealthy guy from Indiana who bought a 300 acre parcel of land in Indiana and built his dream house.
He then built a 30 acre man-made lake and filled it with 30,000 fish.

Is it really so simple?

Just dig a hole and fill it with water?
What else must be done to ensure success?

I was always under the understanding a 'man-made lake" should be spring fed or something.
How does just filling the hole with water and stocking it with fish ensure a successful ecosystem to the lake and its inhabitants?


I find the subject fascinating.


My parents just did this, creating a seven acre lake (pond) on their 100 acres.

You don’t dig a hole, you build a levee.

Posted too soon…

In our case, there was a tiny trickle of a stream there, and think of the levee like a dam. In just a few months, with the 300 foot long levee, the lake is nearly full because of all the rain we’ve had.

There are already tons of frogs in it, and some tiny fish. We do intend to stock it with fish, but it really isn’t even necessary, as the fish find their way in naturally.

All of the man made lakes I know of weren’t built by digging a hole. Basically they just dammed up a creek or river at some point and let mother nature fill it up with water. I think it’s about impossible not to have an ecosystem naturally form. Plants and insects will be brought in by the stream that feeds it, and will also spread from nearby water systems (via birds, wind, etc). I doubt that stocking it with fish is even necessary, and was probably only done so the guy could go fishing for the type of fish that he wanted to be in there.

If you dam a stream that already has a fish population, you’ll have the start of your finny community. Then you decide what kinds of fish you’d like, and have a hatchery deliver as many baby fish as you want. You can get guidance from a university that has a wildlife management department. My uncle taught it at Ohio State U. He said you could reap tons of trout every year from a quarter-acre pond. It requires a few hours of work every week.

It seems like sometimes in the last couple of years there was a big news story about a man-made lake with a bunch of pricey homes on it just disappearing one day. I don’t know the exact details of why, but something in the geological structure under the lake broke and allowed all the water to just run underground and seep off into wherever underground water goes. So it’s not always that simple. :slight_smile:

A google search reveals that it’s Lake Chesterfield, near St. Louis, that I’m thinking of. From the articles I see, it sounds like they had a plan of attempting to seal up the sinkhole and refill the lake. I wonder how that worked out. All the articles I can find are from right after it drained (unsurprisingly, as I imagine the “Lake Restored To Normal” story (if it happens/happened) isn’t nearly as widely run as the bizarre “Lake Suddenly Disappears” story).

I just went back to parents house and took some pics:

Pic 1
Pic 2
Pic 3

As I said, it’s only been a couple of months, so it’s not very pretty yet, but you get the idea. The water level will eventually be about four feet higher, and it will go a lot farther back than you see in the second pic. Most of those trees will be cleared out as well, and the driveway over the levee will be blacktopped.
Size: 22,745 acres
Age: Impounded in 1970

Hey, that’s in my neck of the woods! :wink:

Actually, all the lakes near Dallas are similiar to that: all man-made and relatively shallow.

Sand strata can give you problems too. You will need to have soil borings made to ensure that the soil is cabable of holding water - sand isn’t. This can be overcome by lining your pond with bentonite clay (which can be quite pricey). I knew a developer here who constructed a 20 acre lake which is dry as a bone - he didn’t check the soils and the water drains out through a sand layer. Not too good for selling those “lake-side” lots.

It’s just as possible to create a pond by digging a hole as it is to create one by damming up the valley. A lot of farm ponds here are just holes.

In Mississippi, the ratio of the watershed acreage to the pond surface area must be at least 4:1 for it to stay filled at an aesthetically pleasing water level. More watershed area may be required in a dry climate (we get almost six feet of rain a year here). In order to support fish, you need at least 4:1, with some fish experts recommending 5 or 6 to 1.

Eleusis, that looks like a beautiful piece of land. Your parents are very lucky indeed!

The ease of building a lake can also depend upon where the water table is in relation to the ground surface. In northwestern Wisconsin where I was born you can make a lake by just digging up a spadeful of dirt. The water table is pretty close to the surface all over the area.

I live on one lake (a Great one) and have helped the late Pops Mercotan build two lakes on our property. Well, ponds, really.

In one, a stream was dammed. A lovely pond was made. It silted up, had to be dug out, and the silt moved off someplace less convenient. Then it silted again, I thought about digging it out, but a terrible downpour blew out the dam, and now we just have a stream again.

The other lake (pond) was formed by diverting part of the stream into a hole we dug. It had its own outflow into a different stream. It got choked up with cattails and other vegetation, and now it’s a low spot.

Now we just have the (Great) lake to deal with. It doesn’t look like it’s going away. But it hasn’t tried to eat our house since 1987.

To build a Great Lake, go get some glaciers, let them plow things up, then melt.

With not many rivers or streams, this area also has a lot of ponds that are simply holes in the ground. I am guessing that the clay subsoil holds the water in place so that it just doesn’t soak into surrounding ground.

At almost every interstate overpass, there is at least one man-made pond. The soil is taken from the surrounding area to build up the ramps and the land owner is left with a pond.

A friend of mine has a pond that he stocks with fish. It’s tricky to get the right balance of flora and fauna in a pond. He has to fish his pond regularly to keep the balance right. If he doesn’t take a percentage of the fish out each year, the population gets too large and the fish are all very small.

Depending on where you live getting permission to build a lake can be much harder to do than the actual digging and filling. Where I am it’s almost impossible to divert any stream, even a seasonal runoff channel, in any way unless for majorly important industrial uses (which naturally costs plenty). Stocking fish can be even harder yet… here even a dugout in the middle of the prairie that is to be stocked must be visually inspected and approved to ensure there is no possible way that during a flood/over filling of the pond that pond water (let alone fish) can enter any natural water body, and even then fish species allowed to be stocked is very limited. And there are different zones too - one side of the highway you can stock carp, the other side you can’t.

There are other considerations as to creating a reservoir as well to do with soil types as already mentioned. There are several soil-bermed lakes that have had all the soil slowly wash out over the years only to collapse one day. And another man-made lake… I forget where… had a landslide into the water create a huge wave that spilled over the dam and washed away the small town downstream. The landslide was caused by the water slowly flooding up the hillside which had large clay layers which got wet, and allowed the overlying material to slide right off into the water. That’s what can happen when the engineers and geologists screw up.

I guess I should have inserted “usually” into my first post here, regarding the digging of holes.

emanresull, you make some good points.

We (I say “we” because I just bought the 40 year old house on the frontage of the property, with an acre of land, and I’m technically included in the 100 acres) had the USDA out to inspect during the planning phase.

The USDA offers, completely free of charge, plenty of helpful advice in the planning stages of these things, and in some cases they will even pay for the whole dam(n) :wink: thing, if it benefits the area in some way.

No cite, however, as I’m very much a layman and I’m relying on hearsay here.

Thanks, Squee, I’ll relay that to them. My mother was actually sitting with me when I posted the pics, and she loves this sort of compliment. You can’t see from the pics, but in the first pic, to the right of the house and down maybe 80 feet, is a wide open area of “bottomland” which is now planted with cotton and soybeans. I’d guess you can see about a mile in three directions… it’s a beautiful view.

I thought for a moment that you were referring to Lake Peigneur. Even if not, it’s a good story nonetheless.