The popularity of backyard ponds is growing for many reasons, but it has also stirred some communities — although not yet including London — to look into their safety.
The City of Hamilton is one such community, which recently decided to look into recommendations of the province’s chief coroner who in 2011 was investigating drowning deaths that occurred in 2010.
In a recent Hamilton Spectator article, Ed VanderWindt, the city’s chief building official, said the coroner’s recommendations were “quite clear that the houses should never open directly into (the water).” Hamilton staff is still reviewing exactly how the recommendations might be incorporated into municipal bylaws.
The City of London has no regulations concerning backyard ponds. In fact, they are considered a landscape feature under the city’s Pool/Fence Bylaw and so no fencing is required.
Orest Katolyk, the city’s manager of licensing and municipal bylaw enforcement, said there are regulations concerning the minimum sizes of pools. Katolyk said wading pools, for example, don’t need a fence, but pools of a certain size and height — like those bigger blow up pools that have become popular in the last five years or so — do require fencing.
However, without specific incidents to drive the conversation, Katolyk said there hasn’t been much of a drive to open the topic of backyard ponds for conversation.
“The odd complaint we get about ponds is the noise. They become a habitat for frogs and so it is kind of like living beside Sifton Bog,” Katolyk said. “Those are the kinds of complaints we get. It can get quite loud, but we obviously don’t address those.”
Katolyk said he knows “a bit” about ponds and that to make them really useful, they need to be ledged and of a certain depth for the fish in the wintertime. There are ponds, Katolyk said, that are “no doubt deeper than swimming pools that require a fence.”
But without regulations, Katolyk said individuals are being asked to keep their eyes open.
“The theory has always been, a large pond and a deep pond, there is some responsibility requirement on the property owner or occupant to watch the pond, especially with small kids,” Katolyk said. “The attraction to go to ponds and jump in is far less than a swimming pool, but when you look at data nationally, fatalities can happen in ponds.”
It is a point Megan Georgieff, a public health nurse with Middlesex-London Health Unit, agrees with.
As children can actually drown in one inch of water, Georgieff said the health unit’s position has always been “first and foremost” that supervision is the primary safety precaution.
“The most important thing you can do as a parent or caregiver is to supervise your child,” Georgieff said. “To always stay within sight and arms’ reach of your child when they are in or around water. And that goes for any body of water, no matter how small.”
Georgieff said in addition to supervision, parents and caregivers can ensure another layer of protection by making sure young children and weak swimmers wear lifejackets or other personal floatation devices when they are in or around water. They can also put their child in swimming lessons and teach their children about safety around ponds, lakes and any body of water.
Isa Webb has other suggestions around how fans of backyard ponds can make them safer for young children.
Webb, owner of The Blooming Bog, which is located in Ilderton, said there are “thousands” of backyard ponds in London and the surrounding area.
She adds they are “hugely popular” because of the benefits they provide. “Maybe it is a sign of the times, we have more stress in our lives and we are looking for ways to calm down a little bit and water is soothing, is calming, and I think that is why more and more ponds are going in.”
Webb said a lot of her customers have small children and they are concerned about water and children. Some of those people install a water feature first, such as a pondless waterfall, a pondless stream, or a bubbling rock, to get the children used to the notion of water and to be careful around water.
“When the children are old enough, they take the gravel bed out so it is no longer a disappearing waterfall,” Webb said. “They can have the plants and fish, they can learn about the responsibility of looking after fish in a pond and learn about how ecosystems function.”