Urban stormwater pond research project

Stormwater measuring device in a waterway

The Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra is conducting research to find out how changing the water level in urban ponds affects water quality. The findings will help us better manage the ACT’s many urban ponds.

Our ponds and wetlands

Cities like Canberra change the way water moves in our landscape. Lots of hard surfaces, like concrete and paving, mean rain doesn’t soak into the ground. Instead, it runs off into our stormwater system and urban streams.

Greater volumes of faster moving water pick up all sorts of pollutants along the way, including sediment, nutrients and rubbish.

Urban ponds are designed to filter that water before it enters our lakes and rivers. They slow the flow of water and allow sediment and nutrients to settle out. However, over time, pollutants build up and the pond doesn’t work as efficiently.

But there may be a way to extend the life of a constructed pond by mimicking what happens in natural waterbodies.

Seasonal wetting and drying

The water level in a natural pond changes regularly, due to evaporation and seasonal variations in rainfall. Man-made ponds tend to be located in urban areas and, as a result, generally remain full (thanks to increased volumes of run-off).

However, there is evidence to suggest that varying the water level increases a pond’s ability to trap pollutants, therefore improving water quality and extending its useful life.

Existing research tends to focus on natural waterbodies and/or a single monitored wetting and drying event (an isolated storm for example) rather than wet and dry cycles over time.

The Urban Stormwater Pond Research Project is a longer term study looking at multiple wetting and drying cycles in constructed urban ponds.

The research project

To find out how varying the water level affects water quality, the Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra is studying six urban ponds:

  • Jarramlee Pond and Fassifern Pond in Dunlop
  • Holdens Pond and School Pond in Coombs*
  • Lyneham Wetlands and Dickson Wetlands

Two ponds (Fassifern Pond and School Pond) will remain full and act as controls.

The water level in the corresponding active ponds (Jarramlee Pond and Holden Pond*) will drop by up to 1.5 metres, leaving 3-4 metres of exposed bank. Each pond will then be left to refill naturally before being drained again. This process will be repeated during late summer and autumn in 2018 and 2019.

Lyneham Wetland and Dickson Wetland are also being studied as, due to the harvesting of stormwater for nearby playing fields, the water level in those ponds already changes.

Researchers will visit all six ponds weekly until June 2019 to collect water and sediment samples for analysis at the University of Canberra. They will also take measurements of any plants growing around the edges of the ponds.

* School Pond was originally chosen as the active pond and letters to local residents were sent out to advise them of pending draining activity. However, technical issues with the outlet at School Pond mean that Holdens Pond will now be the active pond and School Pond will act as the control. Note that monitoring will continue at both ponds as planned.

Will wildlife be affected?

We don’t expect the community or local wildlife to be affected by these research activities. The lowering of water levels has been timed to avoid nesting and breeding periods and, once draining has occurred, the exposed sediment should dry out in a matter of days.

The Urban Stormwater Pond Research Project is jointly funded by the Australian and ACT governments as part of the ACT Healthy Waterways Project. The research is being carried out by the Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra.