The City of Hamilton wants residents to hide that big, beautiful back yard pond in the name of child safety.
A chief coroner's review of drowning deaths has prompted the city to consider bylaw changes that would require ornamental ponds of a certain size and depth to be completely fenced off like a back yard pool. (No such bylaw exists in London either.)
That includes at least a 1.2-metre-high barrier between the water and the home. Your back door doesn't cut it.
"The coroner's recommendations were quite clear that the houses should never open directly into (the water)," said Ed VanderWindt, the city's chief building official. "We're still reviewing exactly how we might incorporate the recommendations, but whatever we decide is going to impact people."
VanderWindt added the city is still working to define an ornamental pond and what constitutes a drowning threat. The 2011 coroner's review, which pointed to a spike in child drowning deaths, suggests fencing any water body 60 centimetres or deeper.
The other tricky decision is whether to grandfather existing ponds. That option is "under discussion," said VanderWindt — but the coroner's review also called for bylaws that mandate retrofitting of unfenced water bodies.
VanderWindt has no idea how many Hamiltonians have their own back yard lakes.
But Clearwater Ponds owner Kevin Downes said the industry estimates about 15 per cent of all North American homeowners have some sort of water feature. The business also supports a popular annual charity tour of the 25 to 30 most spectacular back yard ponds in the Hamilton-Burlington area.
"It's more popular than you think, but not everyone has enough water to be regulated under a bylaw," said Downes, who added many families with small children opt for a waterfall and shallow basin rather than deeper ponds.
He said aging "do-it-yourself" ponds that are unnecessarily deep can be a safety concern. "Modern ponds don't need a four-foot (1.2-metre) hole in the ground," he said — but if you want fish to overwinter, at least 60-centimetres is recommended.
Anne Vernon said she feels the proposed new pond rules could go overboard.
Vernon's husband, Rick, a landscape designer, turned their Flamborough back yard into a wildlife oasis that used to feature on the local pond tour. That back yard wetland and pond, 1.2 metres deep in places, occasionally attracts blue herons that have been known to chow down on the stocked koi.
"The entire property is fenced and gated and locked, but from an aesthetic point of view, I wouldn't want to block (the pond) off from the house," she said. "That's kind of the point of putting so much effort into the view."
Vernon said she doesn't have small children, but makes a point of warning visitors with kids about the unique back yard. "I think for anybody with a pool or a pond, there is an inherent risk and responsibility involved," she said. "I feel like it's more of a common sense issue than something you make a bylaw about."
Pond drowning deaths around Hamilton have more often involved children and rural water bodies, including a two-year-old boy in a Cayuga farm pond in 2002 and a four-year-old who was found in a fenced and gated Milton pond in 2000.
The updated bylaw is not aimed at golf course or rural irrigation ponds.
- By Matthew Van Dongen/Hamilton Spectator