an excavator in front of a bentonite-bottomed pond

Pond Drainage Repair and Forestry Mowing for Wildlife Habitat

Priorities: Fix Unwanted Pond Drainage – Improve Hiking Access – Irrigate Ponds
Challenges: Dense Brush – Long Distances – Multiple Scopes – Remote Area
Solutions: Right Equipment – Team Efficiency – Attention to Safety

One South Texas ranch owner needed solutions on a property where prior efforts hadn’t measured up.

Jimmy Burke, an avid bird hunter, had contracted multiple companies to dig several holding ponds, or “tanks,” to support local wildlife. But the ponds kept draining. They refused to hold water for more than a day or so.

Additionally, he needed long lanes cleared through thick brush for easier hiking access on the 250-acre property. The job demanded forestry mowing to create lasting clearance through the understory. He had attempted this himself on a conventional tractor, but results were unsatisfactory.

Finally, Burke wanted a solution to fill the ponds more efficiently. A separate plan was in place to connect the ponds to a well with several thousand feet of PVC. Maas Verde solidified these details on site, expediting the process of trenching, installing, and connecting the pipe.

With limited time and finite staffing resources on the mobilization, Maas Verde leaned into the work.

“Maas Verde was flexible in that we added on a pretty substantial scope during the project,” Burke said. “Watering the tanks was the goal, and Maas Verde worked efficiently and expeditiously to complete that — at what I thought was a fair price.”

Forestry Mowing

Dense, woody brush was also a key factor in the project timeline. Brush clearing came first, which both completed a scope and helped the team access work areas.

Maas Verde’s choice to use a forestry mower for clearing was key. Cutting thousands of linear feet of these woody species would be functionally impossible with a conventional mower (as Burke’s experience demonstrated). The only other feasible tool would be a bulldozer.

But Maas Verde opted against this method to minimize soil disruption. This would allow low growth to return to the property, helping retain the soil profile and preserve its microbe communities and the larger ecosystems it supports.

The forestry mower also expedited the work.

“The brush clearing was exceptional,” Burke said. “I was impressed that the team showed up with the right equipment to get the job done. The [forestry mower] skid steer attachment saved days of time and labor. It really goes to show the value of having the right tools.”

Bentonite Install

The team then addressed the unsatisfactory ponds. Our solution was to spread bentonite on the pond floors.

A type of natural clay, bentonite’s strength as a pond liner comes from its enormous surface area and tendency to self-bond. The clay reacts with water to form a paste, where its particles swell to 30 times their size and compress. These tiny particles have thousands of times more surface area than sand granules — so their capacity for absorption and surface contact is extremely high.

The bentonite arrived at the job site in 3,000-lb. “super sacks.” Maas Verde’s team first performed square footage and volume calculations for spreading, then measured the areas and started pouring.

Safety was critical in the application process. A skid steer operator hoisted the sacks, then ground crew members opened the spouts below, staying clear of any fall zones.

The operator then spread the outpouring bentonite evenly, paying attention to steep grades on the pond sides. Spreading also required the operator to move quickly and steadily.

bentonite spreading
(Photos/Maas Verde)

The crew then finished the spreading process with a mini excavator, prioritizing a timely finish.

“The planning in advance was obviously well thought-out. And because they efficiently used their equipment, it minimized cost,” Burke said.

a bentonite pond
(Photo/Maas Verde)

Trenching and PVC Install

Our crew worked closely together on the PVC/well linkage project. Each pond needed its own conduit, and the longest distance between pond and well was 1,200 linear feet. Brush clearing was arduous, and each path snaked between larger trees and thickets.

During trenching, one team member stayed out front in the skid steer to cut. One installed and welded PVC segments, while one ran laps to deliver fresh pipe.

“We got a really good process in place,” said Andy Maas, who coordinated the project for Maas Verde. The team welded all the PVC outside the trenches. Then once they had the whole pipe connected, they simply rolled it into the trench and backfilled.

Once the team turned the water on, the results became obvious immediately.

“With this project, we knew all along that the fill-up would tell us whether we succeeded or failed right away,” Maas said.

Three weeks after install, each pond is holding water to spec.

South Texas Wildlife and Ecology

Research suggests Texas’ historical southern prairie and savannah lands have transformed into successional forest under human management. Overgrazing and wildfire suppression have led to some grass monocultures and some areas dominated by low, woody species, like Burke’s property.

The success of several invasive grasses “simplifies vegetation structure, reduces biodiversity, and decreases habitat for many species of wildlife,” a group from Texas A&M asserted. Historically, though, South Texas is a biodiverse area, thanks to its subtropical, desert, and coastal location.

map of south texas ecoregions
This project was located along the boundary of the Texas-Tamaulipan Thornscrub (31c) and Southern Subhumid Gulf Coastal Prairie (34b); (image/Wied et. al)

Maas Verde’s remediations resulted in a property that can better accommodate both humans and wildlife. “These woody species were wall-to-wall,” said Ted Maas, who worked as head equipment operator on the project. “It can happen when you don’t see natural fires create a ‘mosaic,’ or random pattern, in vegetation control.”

It’s possible that biodiversity on Burke’s land will now increase, thanks to prioritized wildlife habitat and re-engineered competition between species. He plans to task Maas Verde on annual brush clearing to support the success of the initial project.

And he looks forward to South Texas’ second dove hunting season, from Dec. 15-Jan. 21.

“This gets us further down the road toward good wildlife management. We now have two tanks that can attract thousands of dove and other wildlife,” Burke said. “All we have to do now is monitor our water levels.”

*Featured image: Bentonite pond and a mini excavator; (photo/Maas Verde)

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