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Pond Management: Legal Considerations

Pond owners have unique responsibilities in terms of stocking, maintenance, and liability requirements.

Consult with your local Soil and Water Conservation District Office and/or the Natural Resources Conservation Service when selecting your pond site and during construction. Depending on the site, watershed size, and the purpose of the pond, federal and state permits may be necessary for construction. For example, streams are considered wetland areas, and if you build a dam on a stream or affect a wetland in other ways, you are required to obtain a permit from the USACOE.

Dams need periodic inspections and repairs to ensure their integrity and safety. Who may access the pond and when it may be used are considerations the pond owner must address. Will swimming and boating be allowed? If so, where, when, and under what conditions (swim at own risk, power boats or electric motors, etc.)?

Stocking non-native or exotic fish species such as triploid grass carp requires a permit from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). Raising and selling fish for bait and/or consumption may require permits from DWR or the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. As the pond owner, you are responsible for obtaining these permits.

Pond owners are also responsible for the well-being of habitats downstream of their property. If too much rotenone is applied during a pond renovation and it causes a fish kill downstream, the owner is liable for replacement costs associated with the clean-up. Determining if threatened or endangered species live in your area is extremely important. Warmwater (or no water) released from your pond could push a sensitive aquatic animal closer to extinction!

Another consideration in site selection is dam failure liability. You must consider what would happen downstream if the dam failed and flooding or loss of life and property resulted. Dams 25 feet or higher that hold 50 acre-feet of water or more and dams 6 feet or higher that hold 15 acre-feet of water or more are regulated by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Division of Dam Safety and Floodplain Management (DSFM). In addition, owners of agricultural dams must file for an exemption for their dam although dams 25 feet or higher and that hold 100 acre-feet of water or more are also subject to DCR regulations. DCR’s Division of DSFM requires operation certificates, annual safety inspections, emergency plans and other items under the Dam Safety Act. If you are planning to build a pond with a dam meeting any of the above criteria, contact DCR for more information.

If your stream is in a watershed known to support anadromous fish (shad, herring) spawning, you may be required to construct a fishway on your dam. Consult DWR for more information on fish passage requirements.

Pond owners and their guests do not need a fishing license to fish their own pond.