Surviving the Storm
By Lee Brouillet
Unlike ponders on the West Coast (who have to deal with earthquakes) or in the Midwest (who have to deal with tornados), those of us who live in the Gulf and East Coast states are usually lucky enough to have ample notice that a storm is coming. The preparations that we make depend on whether it’s a “storm” or a STORM. Many of our casual afternoon thunderstorms can cause as much damage as a tropical depression. That being said, let’s suppose that we’ve been advised that a storm is on its way.
How do I prepare?
Stop feeding the fish: they won’t starve but continued ammonia production could kill them if your water quality takes a hit due to filtration problems. Do a water change, as large as you can handle. Even if it’s only a moderate storm, you may be without water for a few days. With a fresh water change, the fish will have the best chance. Drop the pond’s water level several inches (or more) to allow for the extra rain. If your pond was built with an overflow drain, make sure that the drain field remains unobstructed. Net the pond to keep the fish in and as much flying debris as possible out.
If possible, when a big storm/high winds are expected, disconnect and remove any items that may blow over into the pond, such as trickle towers. If you and three of your best friends can lean on it and push it over, the wind can, too! If you can’t remove it, at least disconnect the water source so that if/when it does blow over, it won’t drain your pond. Remove anything around the pond that can take off “flying”, such as nets, buckets, chairs, tables, etc. If your pond is ground level and prone to flooding, try to protect if from ground water by sand bagging it or digging a trench around it to divert water flow. When it starts to rain and the blow begins, fish will usually “go to bottom”. Even after heavy flooding, most people report that their fish are still right there, hunkered down in the pond waiting for things to calm down and return to normal. Fish are only reported missing when the pond is in an overflow condition for several days, the fish relax a bit, and go “exploring”.
The power went out – what do I do now?
Well, it depends: how’s your stocking rate? If it’s low, you probably don’t have too much to worry about. But if you’re like most of us, you’re overstocked – and that’s a problem when the power goes out. If your pond has a large surface area, it’s better than a smaller area. If your dissolved oxygen level was high prior to the outage, you’re in better shape than if it was low. If the storm is a small one and you expect power to be restored in short order (a few hours or so), then just relax. However, longer outages require action! Alternate power sources include various back-up systems, such as:
- Generators: the cost between a small one just big enough to handle the pond and a larger one that can handle the pond and a few of life’s necessities (like the fridge, the TV, a fan or two, some lights . . .) is frequently just a matter of $200 or so. Another consideration is the size of the fuel tank: the smaller generators require frequent refueling. Slightly larger ones can run for 10 hours or so between refueling (think “full night’s sleep”!). Make sure you have 5 gallon fuel cans, a siphon to refill the cans from your car’s tank, and whatever filters the manufacturer suggests keeping on hand. And remember to TEST the generator at least once a month (once a week is better) to ensure that it will start when you need it. Plug an electrical appliance into the generator to ensure that it’s actually “generating”; the engine can start and run without making power. When you need it is not the time to find out that it’s malfunctioning.
- Inverters: these are marvelous little items that plug into the cigarette lighter of your vehicle to convert the car’s DC power into AC. Many stores, including the big DIY stores, sell this handy little piece of equipment. I recently purchased an inverter that will supply 300 watts of constant running (600 watts start-up) for $40.00. It has two 3-pronged (grounded) outlets and will run for 2 ½ to 3 hours before you will need to start the vehicle to recharge its battery. There’s even a warning light on the inverter to let you know when you need to recharge the vehicle’s battery! Larger inverters (750 watts steady/1500 watts start-up) are also available for about $80.00. (Aside from pond use, they’re just plain handy to have available to run equipment that you normally would not be able to!) Run an extension cord from your car to the pond to run critical equipment, but make sure the connection stays high and dry, or wrap it in Saran Wrap and secure it with electrical or duct tape.
- How do you figure out watts if your equipment doesn’t list the wattage? Use the formula “Amps x Volts = Watts”. Example: my water pump draws .85 amps x 110 (volts) = 93.5 watts! Remember that most electrical equipment with motors will draw double wattage to start, then settle down to its normal usage. In that event, start one then another; don’t try to start everything at the same time.
- A UPS back-up from your computer can work in a pinch (but the beeping can drive you crazy!)
- A (charged) deep cycle/marine battery pond-side with an inverter attached works nicely
These items can be used to run your air pump (first) and your water pump (second), or alternating between the two.
OK, the storm has passed; NOW what do I do?
First of all, your babies are probably just fine, but their “home” may need some repairs (as well as your own!). As soon as you can, you should:
- Survey the damage and assess what needs to be attended to FIRST
- Check all plumbing to ensure that there are no breaks or leaks
- If you netted the pond, remove it so you can see the fish and their condition
- Take a water sample and test for ammonia, nitrites, pH and/or KH
- Treat water as necessary with your ammonia binder of choice;
- If there are nitrItes, add salt at the rate of 3/4 to 1 lbs. (technically .833 lbs!) per 100 gallons, 1/3 at a time (or 8 lbs. per 1,000 gallons) over a period of 24 hours to achieve a level of 0.1 ppm. This is sufficient to prevent the uptake of the nitrItes by the gills. If your fish are in good shape (no visible cuts or bruises, not too “shocked” from their experience) and you have plants, this small amount of salt will protect your fish from Brown Blood Disease without hurting the plants. But if the fish are really stressed or have sustained injury, they’ll need a higher concentration – so pull your plants out if they are salt sensitive: we’re helping the fish, not the plants. Plants don’t care about nitrItes. (Note: the common recommendation of 1 lb. of salt per 1,000 gallons for 0.1 ppm is a nice, “round” number. If your pond is 3,000 gallons or so, the difference is not that much. But if you have a large pond, upwards of 5,000 – the difference in “rounding” becomes more pronounced.)
- If your KH is below 100 (5-6 drops), add baking soda at the rate of 1 cup per 1,000 gallons. This will help to buffer your pond from a pH crash in the event there is more rain. If you have “bead” type filtration, you need to have your KH above 200 (remember to multiply the number of drops it takes to effect the color change by 17.9 to get the proper reading. Don’t ask: it’s a “German” thing!).
- If you were not able to net the pond, get your fish/skim net out and remove as many leaves and other debris as you can: decaying leaf matter will rapidly consume oxygen, and that’s the last thing the pond needs at this time.
- If you have plants, return them to their proper positions; repot as necessary – remove as much of the dirt dumped in the pond as possible. If you have a bottom drain, make sure it isn’t clogged and is taking up the junk on the bottom of the pond. If you don’t have a bottom drain, vacuum the pond as soon as you can.
- Chances are good that your pond water will be murky; at the very least, the nutrient levels will be “off” due to the excessive rain water. Now is a good time to add Koi Clay at the rate of 3 Tbs. per 1,000 gallons, dissolved in pond water and distributed around the pond. That’s triple the recommended “maintenance” dose, but less than the “remedial” level. You can use up to 1 cup per 1,000 gallons if necessary (or more – you can’t overdose). The Koi Clay will do several things for your water: the clay will act as a flocculent, taking particles suspended in the water column to the bottom. It will also replace minerals and trace elements that are required by both your fish and your bioconverter.
- Hopefully your pond has not sustained any severe damage that will require extensive work. If it has – and you don’t have a quarantine facility available, consider getting a kiddy pool to be used until the fish can be returned to their home. These are relatively cheap and can remain boxed in your garage until necessary. (Hint: keep these pools in mind at the end of the “season” when they’re on close-out: they become downright economical at that point!) If all else fails, call your local club: show tanks work very well indeed!
Emergency supplies should include:
- Ammonia test kit
- NitrIte test kit
- KH/TA test kit
- Baking soda
- Enough ammonia binding dechlor to do the pond 3x over!
- Activated charcoal
- Koi clay (calcium bentonite)
- Net to cover the pond
- Generator and/or Inverter
- Sand bags
- PVC pipe, fittings, glue, etc. to make repairs if necessary
- Extra air stones and pumps (air and water, if possible), with appropriate hose
- And perhaps most importantly – your sense of humor: it will serve you well over the next few days!