How to manage and maintain farm dams
Farm dams are not just a set and forget arrangement. They need ongoing monitoring and management to maintain their integrity and continue to serve you.
A healthy and functioning farm dam can provide a wide range of benefits to you, your stock and the wider natural environment.
Maintaining dam integrity
Topdress any areas that become bare of topsoil as doon as possible. Water regularly and fertilise to establish a protective grass cover.
Keeping an open and functioning spillway is also important. To achieve this:
- don’t plant trees and shrubs in the spillway or they may restrict the flow of water
- regularly slash grass on the spillway and outlet slope to encourage a dense groundcover
- don’t use the spillway or outlet slope for vehicle access to help prevent erosion.
Monitor the dam wall for leaks and pack any weak points with clay and topsoil as needed.
Desilting farm dams
If you are collecting large amounts of sediment, you may need to dredge or desilt your farm dams. For practical reasons, this is best done during times of drought.
To avoid impacting local waterways, avoid placing dredged silt on the spillway, filter zone or drainage lines. It can be thinly applied to your paddocks or added to the dam wall as reinforcement.
Silt problems can be reduced by maintaining a healthy groundcover in your dam catchment areas.
Fencing and stock access
Fencing is an important step in protecting your dam. Fence off to stop stock damaging the structure, not to mention rabbits which can damage dam walls.
Where possible fence at least 10m from the high water line.
If you are running stock, have water points away from the dam through either gravity fed troughs or through pumping. This will help maintain water quality as well as protect your dam from damage.
If can’t do this, then have one point that stock can access and reinforce the path to the water’s edge with rocks to stabilise and prevent erosion damage.
Farm dams are sadly one of the leading causes of fatalities in children. So fencing is also an important safety feature to protecting your children and guests to your land.
You may want to get a vehicle in to access water for firefighting or watering plantings, so remember to include a gate in your designs.
Supporting a healthy dam environment
Farm dams can be refuges to a wide variety of wildlife and there are things you can do to encourage this.
Fencing, again, can protect vegetation and allow terrestrial and aquatic plants to regenerate. You can also plant appropriate species to create habitat and a healthy environment.
As vegetation established, your farm dam will become home to a wide range of animals, including birds, frog, bats, yabbies and a spectacular variety of insects such dragonflies.
Adding logs and large stones can also provide important habitat, so try to include some structure to your dam where you can.
As well as supporting a healthy environment, a wildlife-friendly farm dam can also become a nice place to visit and recharge well. Perhaps even include a bench or sturdy log so you can sit and enjoy the tranquillity.
Planting on farm dam walls
Planting around your dam can have many benefits to erosion, evaporation and local wildlife.
If you can, avoid planting large shrubs and trees on dam walls, as their roots can create possible seepage points.
However, you can plant a wide array of aquatic and terrestrial plants to support the stability, water quality and function of your farm dam.
To find out more about best practices in farm dam management, check out the following resources:
- Building farm dams (NSW DPI)
- Managing dams (Agricultural Victoria)
- Farm dam enhancement (Sustainable Farms)
- Farm dams (Water NSW)
- The Rural Living Handbook (Local Land Services)