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GUEST COLUMNIST: Backyard Wetlands: A Second Life for Yesterday's Pools

Judie Lincer and her husband, Jeff, enjoy their backyard wetlands.

By Judie Lincer.

Out with the harsh chemicals and in with the algae. With that simple choice just three years ago, our enjoyment of home living has escalated exponentially. As most pool owners know, before long the kids grow up and the pool is an incredibly underutilized, unsustainable, and expensive luxury. Now, after transforming our pool into a wetland, we start our day sipping tea pondside, entertaining family, friends, and neighbors with the spectacle of feeding our colorful fish, spotting dragonflies in all metamorphic stages, and enjoying the fun of watching birds, bats, and other visiting wildlife.

How did this happen so quickly? After attending my very first Meetup on permaculture and seeing a five-minute segment on pool conversion, I was hooked on the concept. We stopped chlorinating at the end of May 2015. Algae appeared within a week and dragonflies (who in the past would lay precious eggs in the pool that perished due to the chlorine) were now laying eggs that would soon be viable nymphs and emerge as adults within six weeks. We installed two bog filters out of 150-gallon livestock troughs and filled them with plants and invertebrates that are beneficial for the health of the pond. We also add beneficial bacteria to convert the ammonia (which is toxic to fish) released by the fishes’ gills.

Soon after our pool-to-pond conversion, we had visits from a great blue heron, who was scoping out the pond from our roof, and a great egret, who visited the pond five days in a row (and consumed at least one of our koi). We even had an osprey come by to dive, dine, and dash off with another koi. Lesson learned. We now have large shade cloths so that our pond is somewhat obscured from predators and we've surrounded the perimeter with rocks, logs, and garden art to discourage fish-eating birds from easy access to our koi.


We have seen at least five species of dragonflies and three species of damselflies visiting and laying eggs in the pond and on vegetation in the pond. We have planters brimming with a variety of vegetation; slates and gravel serve as hiding places and habitat for dragonfly nymphs and other invertebrates to safely reproduce and mature. Of course, we also now have our own homegrown fish babies that are the result of spawning in the spring. Currently, we have six species of fish, pacific tree frogs, and three rescue turtles. This is such a dynamic environment.

The function of the wetlands is to take up nutrients from the water so that they are less available to the algae, which can be a challenge to control otherwise. We have added emergent and floating plants to the pond and are also beginning to experiment with hydroponics and plan to start propagating vegetables in the pond too. We have watercress galore in the summer.

The pond is also useable for swimming and I enjoy doing slow laps and taking in the beauty. The koi swim by my side and even enjoy being petted. Our continuing goal is to use our pond project for education on pool-to-pond conversion, water collection and water conservation, aquaponics, ecosystems, and other related areas. At this point, we know of five other people who have converted their pools to ponds and they are all so very gratified that they did.


So next time you are looking at your pool or have family, friends, or a neighbor lamenting their underutilized pool, please do let them know about this incredibly simple option. The maintenance is low and the gratification is tremendous on a personal level for enjoyment, as well as the feel-good aspect of what can be given back to our environment ecologically. Jump in with two feet. You won’t be sorry.

If you or someone you know is interested in getting started on a pool-to-pond conversion, please contact Judie Lincer.

Judie Lincer is a board member for San Diego Children and Nature (SDCaN), a naturalist educator for San Diego Audubon, and a workshop and garden tour coordinator for California Native Plant Society-San Diego. A former teacher, Judie now models lessons to guide teachers as to how they can use their schoolyards and nearby nature areas for science education. She also leads hikes at local canyons for students to get children excited about being in nature and nurture their sense of awe and respect for nature and our local native habitats.

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