United States

Department of


Natural Resources



1351A Highway 146 Bypass

Liberty, Texas 77575

PH.  (936) 336-9145 Ext.3

FAX (936) 336-7224



Tips on Building a “Pit-Type” Pond

July 2000


Ø     What is a “Pit-Type” Pond?:

There are basically two types of ponds, “embankment” and “excavated”.  An “embankment” pond is built by constructing a dam to back water behind it.  An “excavated,” “dug out,” or “pit-type” pond is simply a hole that is built by excavating the dirt.  Because of Liberty County’s relatively flat terrain, almost all of our ponds are “pit-type”.  This information sheet provides guidelines for designing and constructing a “pit-type” pond.


Ø      Locating the Pond:

Careful thought should be put into selecting a site for a pond.  It is a good idea to look over the site after a heavy rain.  Check to see which way the runoff water drains, then you can plan where to place the spoil (excavated dirt) from the pond.  Be careful not to block the natural flow of surface waters in a manner that damages the property of another.


Ø      Utilities and Pipelines:

Be sure to check for underground utilities and pipelines.  Also, be aware of overhead powerlines.  Before you dig you must call one of the following statewide notification systems: 1-800-245-4545, 1-800-545-6005, 1-800-344-8377, or 1-800-669-8344.  They will advise you on how to proceed.  Usually a representative will visit the site and stake the area.  Be sure to advise the contractor of any utilities, pipelines, and powerlines in the area.


Ø      Soils:

Most soils in Liberty County have a clay subsurface.  Seepage is usually not a problem.  Pit-type ponds will usually “seal over” after the first or second time that they are filled with water.  If coarse sand is encountered during pond construction, it is recommended that you “plate” the sand area with a 1 to 2 foot blanket of dense clay.






Ø     Pond Design:

Most Liberty County pit-type ponds are one-eighth to one-quarter surface acre in size.  (An acre is about 208 feet by 208 feet).  Ponds of this size provide adequate livestock water and are excellent for catfish.  Most pit-type ponds are square or rectangular.  However, some are round, kidney or oblong shaped, which might be more aesthetically pleasing.


Pond depth should be a minimum of 8 feet.  This will allow for some evaporation during the hot summer, and still maintain water quality and quantity for livestock and fish.


Side slopes of the pond should be at least 2.5 to 1 or flatter.  To reduce shallow water and help control unwanted pond weeds, the shoreline should be constructed at a 2 to 1 slope, or steeper, to a depth of 2 feet; then the slope should flatten out to 2.5 to 1 or flatter.  The flatter the slope, the safer, making it easier for a child or livestock to climb out.


Topsoil should be stockpiled at the beginning of construction, until the excavation is finished.  The spoil should be placed and shaped so that it can be mowed and maintained.  Use the topsoil to plate over the spoil, and then plant grass seed such as common bermudagrass or bahiagrass.  As previously mentioned, the spoil should be placed so as not to block the natural drainageway.




Ø     When to Build a Pond:

Usually, the best time to dig a pond is in the hot summer months, July or August (unless a dragline or track-hoe is used).  Many Liberty County soils have what is called a “high water table”.  During the winter and spring months, this water table may be at or just below the surface.  During the dry summer months the water table drops and will be less likely to impede excavation work.


In addition, in late summer, there may be less chance for a rain to partially fill the pond while under construction.  A temporary “coffer” dam, one to two feet in height can usually be built around the pit during construction to divert rainfall runoff away until the pond is completed.


Ø      Equipment:

Most ponds in Liberty County are dug with a bulldozer, however, draglines, track hoes, and scrapers can be used.  An experienced operator on a good piece of machinery can help eliminate the chance of getting rained out, and ending up with a shallow, unfinished pond.



Ø      Wildlife Considerations:

Planting the shoreline of the pond with native trees, shrubs and grass can enhance wildlife habitat.  If waterfowl habitat is an objective, areas of shallow water should be provided.  Water depth should be no more than 2 feet.  This allows for growth of aquatic vegetation, which is desirable for ducks and wading birds.


Ø      Stocking the Pond with Fish:

The state and federal government no longer have fish available for stocking farm ponds.  Fish can be purchased from private commercial fish hatcheries or thru many farm and ranch supply stores.  Suggested stocking rates and other fishpond management information can be obtained from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, formerly the Soil Conservation Service).


Ø     Safety:

Ponds, like any body of water, attract people, creating a potential for injury or drowning.  It is a good idea to have lifesaving equipment on site, such as a ring buoy, rope, and long pole.  Check with your insurance agent about your liability in owning a pond.


Ø      Laws and Regulations:

In some instances, there are federal and state agencies that may have jurisdiction over excavation work.

§         The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) requires a water rights permit for the impoundment or diversion of state water.  However, permits are not required for ponds up to 200 acre-feet used for domestic or livestock purposes. (To find acre-feet, multiply the surface acres of the pond times the depth.)  Most farm ponds are substantially under 200 acre-feet and do not require this permit.

§         The US Army Corps of Engineers (CE) administers Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which regulates discharge of fill materials into waters of the U.S., including “wetlands”.  Some areas of Liberty County are considered wetlands by the CE because of saturated soil conditions, however, there are certain exemptions that apply specifically to small ponds.


Generally speaking, a permit is not required if the pond site is not part of, or adjacent to, a surface tributary system (such as a creek, bayou or river bottom); and the pond is built for livestock water on open land (not wooded).  The size of the pond should be reasonable to meet the needs of the livestock operation.  The spoil should be placed in a non-wetland, or placed in such a manner s to minimize impacts to wetlands (i.e. stacked next to the pond rather that spread in low areas.)


If the pond does not fit the above mentioned description you should call the CE before beginning construction for current wetland regulations and guidelines.


Contact the CE (US Army Corps of Engineers) in Galveston at 409-766-3930.


§         Farmers who participate in USDA programs must adhere to the rules of the 1985 Food Security Act, as amended.  Before doing any excavation, USDA program participants should contact the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service to make sure the work will not result in a violation of the Food Security Act.


For more information about digging a “pit-type” pond, contact the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Liberty by calling 936-336-9145 extension 3.




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To file complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326W, Whitten Building, 14th  and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD.)  USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.