Early October’s flirtation with winter could be a good reminder to check farm and ranch dugouts before freeze-up.
Dan Benson, agricultural water specialist with Alberta Agriculture, said dugout maintenance depends on whether people need them as a year-round water source or only seasonally.
Either way, it’s a good idea to do a fall inspection.
“I guess for winter dugouts, probably the biggest issue is water quality and just making sure that the aeration system is working correctly and that they have a diffuser on or near the bottom of the dugout,” Benson said in an interview.
He recently wrote an article available through Alberta’s Ag-Info Centre outlining some basic steps for pre-winter dugout checks.
In terms of the aeration system, he suggested producers pull the line to shore and check line soundness and proper check valve operation, and also check the diffuser.
“If you don’t have a diffuser, you should install one,” he wrote. “Also check that the diffuser is on, or near the bottom of the dugout. Research has shown that year-round continuous aeration with a diffuser located on the bottom of the dugout provides the best water quality,” Benson wrote.
Any floating intake should also be inspected and cleaned. It should then be lowered to four or five feet below the water level to give sufficient depth once the dugout freezes.
Aeration systems weaken the ice, of course, which is one reason Benson recommends fencing all dugouts. Those near homes should be fenced to protect children, pets, livestock and wildlife.
He also recommends that dugouts with aeration systems be posted with visible warning signs and fluorescent snow fence near open water areas.
Even dugouts in pastures should be fenced.
“We would like to see limited access to that dugout from livestock so we would encourage off-source watering systems just to make the dugout last longer, which usually would improve the water quality as well,” Benson said in an interview.
Attention should be paid to the intake area, which should be clear of trees, shrubs and any debris that might flow into the water.
Trees should be at least 50 metres from the dugout to discourage wildlife and limit leaf loss into the water, which can degrade water quality.