By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Have you ever seen a real estate ad for a home boasting its “water view” or a “lake” view?
Today’s post is a Buyer Beware message.
Unless you’re viewing a home near a recreational lake — a real lake used for boating, fishing, swimming and other water sports — that ornamental “lake” is nothing more than a retention pond.
Its primary purpose is to collect stormwater runoff for environmental purposes or flood control, although it may sometimes also provide a manmade habitat for birds, fish, and wildlife.
Here’s a dirty little secret that the real estate industry doesn’t want you to know: state and local law requires that virtually all new development must be designed to collect and control the stormwater runoff it will create. Each rooftop, paved driveway or parking lot, and every road creates hard surfaces that don’t absorb rainwater. And all the water has to go somewhere.
So…a system of drainage ditches, swales, underground storm water pipes, and water collection basins are constructed to prevent flooded streets and basements in the community or properties downstream.
Stormwater ponds, at least in theory, provide added environmental benefits of slowing down the flow of water, filtering contaminants naturally, and allowing debris and silt to sink to the bottom of the basin. The stated goal of retention ponds also known as “wet basins” or “detention basins,” is to reduce the downstream flow of polluted stormwater, preventing erosion and contamination of watershed areas or private property.
The key words here are “in theory.”
Basically, all private property owners in newer association-governed communities are expected to maintain and manage their own stormwater infrastructure, with little or no guidance, assistance, or oversight from local government.
That’s not exactly a selling point for home buyers, is it?
That’s why developers needed to find a way to market homes near some of the more obvious stormwater features, including retention ponds.
So, several decades ago, home builders and savvy real estate professionals decided to sell housing consumers on the notion that these small lakes and ponds are attractive water features.
In fact, developers often charge a premium price for a “water view” lot, where homes are constructed within a few feet of these stormwater basins.
When they are relatively new, water in the pond tends to be relatively clear. Fish, ducks, and water-loving animals thrive. Home buyers or condo tenants rave about their view of a “natural” setting.
Some developments also incorporate a natural or manmade wetland (marshy or swampy preserve) to collect stormwater and to serve as a habitat for wildlife. While preserve lots can be naturally attractive, the home buyer needs to be aware that being up close and personal with Mother Nature sometimes has its disadvantages.
Time for a reality check.
The truth is, the longer a retention pond or wetland exists, the more likely it is to create a nuisance which will eventually bring down property values.
Poor or nonexistent HOA maintenance
Most privately owned retention ponds and wetland preserves (or conservation areas) are poorly maintained and managed. At best, the vast majority of homeowners’ associations may hire a lake or pond maintenance service that occasionally removes algae and applies chemicals in an attempt to maintain water quality.
But a retention pond is not equivalent to a swimming pool. Proper long term maintenance requires regular inspection and repair of storm water infrastructure that feeds water into the pond, as well as any weir or dam that controls overflow of water to a wetland, another body of water, or communities located downstream.
In addition, the shoreline of each pond requires regular repair of damage caused by natural or unchecked erosion.
Yet very few HOAs regularly inspect their stormwater management components. Likewise, few HOAs have access to knowledgeable experts who can determine the causes and cures of stormwater woes, including retention ponds that morph into putrid cesspools, ponds that regularly overflow every time it rains, or wet basins that form leaks or sinkholes, and mysteriously drain themselves dry.
And when the HOA fails to control overgrowth of a wetland onto private or common property, the wetland eventually expands its borders and takes over.
Despite this reality, it’s very uncommon to see any HOA taking proactive steps to manage its wetland or forest preserves.
Another unpleasant reality of retention ponds
Wildlife management and pest control can become a huge headache for HOAs. For example, the community may face any number of challenges, including, but not limited to the following:
- Beavers building natural dams that obstruct the flow of water, or cause upstream flooding
- Canadian geese that become overpopulated, spreading their fecal waste on private and common property
- Territorial swans that attack residents
- Alligators or poisonous snakes that threaten the safety or residents, especially small children and pets
- An overabundance of rodents and mosquitoes
Below I have posted several documented examples of ponds and wetlands that have become unsightly, unpleasant, and expensive maintenance liabilities. In some cases, these poorly managed storm water systems, disguised as desirable views, result in significant property damage and harm to wildlife or the environment.
Midwest City neighborhood’s erosion concerns are being addressed
POSTED 11:22 AM, MAY 22, 2018, BY KFOR-TV and K. Querry
MIDWEST CITY, Okla. – A Midwest City neighborhood’s concerns are being addressed.
Homeowners in the Turtlewood community called News 4 after learning about plans for a new retention pond in their neighborhood. They said they were concerned that the new pond could bring on old problems.
“We’re just kind of concerned because we see what this pond is doing and then the new pond has steep sides also,” Kathy Fetters told News 4.
The retention ponds in the older section of the neighborhood are showing signs of erosion. The crumbling walls led many to have fears about flooding. The HOA transfer for the old pond went through, but residents said they were concerned they would be forced to pay for any problems.
Since the story aired, Home Creations announced that it is working to fix the problems, including a plan to control erosion around the pond. The company is also bringing in an independent engineer to design a concrete retaining wall that will be paid for with a $58,000 gift to the homeowner’s association.
Read more (Video):
In Turtlewood, homeowners were fortunate enough to address problems with the developer before official turnover of the pond to the HOA. However, similar problems are likely to recur in another decade or so. And next time, homeowners won’t be able to go back to the Home Creations for another $58,000 or more to repair damages from erosion.
What are the chances that the HOA will begin to set aside money in reserves for future repairs?
Homeowners concerned after dead fish found floating in Suffolk lake
POSTED 12:48 PM, MAY 7, 2018, BY ALLISON MECHANIC
UPDATED AT 06:33PM, MAY 7, 2018
SUFFOLK, Va – Dead fish floating belly up are making homeowners in the Burbage Grant neighborhood concerned.
Lauren Simmons’ home backs up to the lake where the dead fish were found.
“We have this beautiful backyard and a water view and it’s real pretty, but now we look out and all we see is dead fish,” Simmons says.
The dead fish were first noticed Sunday morning. On Monday, dozens of fish could still be seen floating near the edge of the water, which is only a few yards from neighbors’ homes.
Read more (Video):
Mystery Of Cedar Park Pond Fish Kill Deepens
There’s debate whether removal of oxygen-providing algae caused the fish to die. Meanwhile a hapless batch of new fish soon to arrive.By Tony Cantu, Patch Staff | | Updated
CEDAR PARK, TX — Debate continues in the community as to whether algae is the culprit behind a recent mass fish kill at a Cedar Pond park.
A company hired by a neighborhood homeowners association to remove algae in the pond did so, but in the process dropped the oxygen levels in the water precipitously as to cause the fish to die, KVUE reported. According to the report, hundreds if not thousands of fish died asa result of the lowered oxygen levels.
The company has since removed the dead fish and has offered to re-stock the pond with new fish, the station reported.
Fish kills are a common occurrence in retention ponds. And when they do occur, the stench is terrible. Restocking fish is an added expense for many HOAs, unless the association can hold the lake maintenance company responsible for replacing dead fish, as in Cedar Park.
Nevertheless, maintaining a healthy environment for aquatic life is an ongoing expensive challenge for HOAs.
Neighbors blame DR Horton for flooded backyards
Tuesday, April 24th 2018, 3:10 pm EDT
By Connor DelPrete
Updated Tuesday, April 24th 2018, 6:24 pm EDT
BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Neighbors woke up to flooded yards from Tuesday’s downpour and say they warned their developer a nearby construction site would cause major headaches.
“We went through some pretty torrential rains during the hurricanes,” Ed Small, a Carolina Shores resident, said. “Never ever did we see water raise up and come back to the property like this morning.”
Homeowners in The Farm at Brunswick say the battle with developer DR Horton hit a breaking point when they found the majority of their yards submerged.
Read more (Video):
Your HOA’s poorly designed or managed storm water system can create damages for property owners in neighboring communities. The future owners of homes in this North Carolina DR Horton community will eventually inherit a stormwater system — which will most likely include retention ponds. But will DR Horton’s design and construction ensure that neighboring properties remain dry when it rains?
(WA) Shoring up a key wetland in Camas
After decades of neglect, maintenance of Lacamas Shores biofilter long overdue
By Katy Sword, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 18, 2018, 6:01 AM
CAMAS — In the 1980s, the Lacamas Shores biofilter was among the first of its kind in the nation. The system filters stormwater at the existing wetland before it enters Lacamas Lake using a system of French drains known as “bubblers,” filters and herbaceous grasses that collect any remaining toxins.
“It was a good design for that era,” said Camas City Administrator Pete Capell. “Unfortunately, little to no maintenance was done, and then things have overgrown. Where there was initially intended to be some grasses, trees have come up and it’s clearly not functioning the way it was intended.”
Some in the neighborhood want to clear out the trees that have grown in the wetland to restore views and, in theory, raise property values. Homes in the Lacamas Shores neighborhood list for $1 million or more.
Lacamas Lake’s story serves as evidence that even homeowners with financial affluence may fail to properly maintain their storm water management systems and neglect to be responsible stewards of wetlands and other conservation areas.
See the following publications for guidelines:
Maintenance of Stormwater Wetlands and Wet Ponds (NC State University Cooperative Extension)
EPA: Stormwater Wet Pond and Wetland Management Guidebook
BMP #: Constructed Wetlands