Obtaining an accurate measurement of your pond’s volume is helpful for anyone keeping koi. Knowing the correct number of gallons your pond holds is key to informing stocking capacity, planning equipment needs, performing water treatments, and installing water features.
Overstocking is one of the most common problems pond owners face. The desire for more koi and goldfish is inevitable, but your pond needs to stay within healthy limits for your living jewels. Your pond needs to hold at least 1,000 gallons to start, plus 200 gallons for each koi. An overcrowded pond can lead to aggressive behavior, poor water quality, and sick and unhappy fish.
Pond water needs to circulate through the filter approximately once every hour, which means that the size of your filter should correspond to the pond’s volume in gallons. If you install a filter that doesn’t meet your pond’s needs, your water quality might suffer.
Aeration is also vital to maintaining a pond with thriving koi, and the larger the volume, the more aeration it needs. Oxygen levels should be at a minimum of 5.0 mg/L for koi. Several natural and mechanical options exist for maintaining healthy oxygen levels in your pond, and the pond’s volume will dictate the extent of the measures needed.
The three most common methods to calculate how much water is in your pond are water meter, volume estimate, and salt/salinity.
Water Meter Method
If you are in the pond construction process, the most straightforward way to calculate how much water fills a pond is to measure the volume using a water meter. You need to do this before placing any fish or plants in the pond. If you have an existing pond already stocked, this method won’t work unless you drain it and provide temporary housing for inhabitants.
Use a high-quality meter and set your pond up with everything non-living that it will have once the fish are in it–plumbing, filtration, and water features, etc. These all will impact the total water volume in your pond.
To obtain a water meter reading, you simply need to note the beginning number on the meter, fill the pond and note the number when the pond and filter systems are full. Subtract the ending number on the meter from the beginning number. If your meter reads cubic feet, you will need to multiply that number by 7.48 to convert to gallons.
The downside of this option is that it is time-intensive. Even with a 3/4 inch garden hose, which flows about 12 gallons on average per minute, it would take about an hour to flow 720 gallons. If you have a sizable pond, you might easily spend several hours filling it.
Estimating Volume Method
The estimation method will only yield accurate results if your pond is a perfect geometric shape (e.g., square, circle, or rectangle) and has flat sides and flat bottoms. Even mild depth variation, or small contours on the pond’s sides, will produce inaccurate results using this method.
However, estimating volume is the first step in other methods needed to obtain better measurements.
Estimating water volume involves determining what geometric shape your pond best resembles and then performing a simple calculation to determine the volume in cubic feet. You need to then multiply by 7.48 to convert feet to gallons.
Rectangular/Square Formula (feet) = length x width x depth = volume in Cubic Feet X 7.48 = gallons. For example, a pond that is 20 x 15 x 5 would have 1,500 cubic feet. Multiplied by 7.8, this rectangular pond’s estimated water volume is 11,220 gallons.
Circular Formula (feet) = (3.14 x radius x radius) x depth = Volume in cubic feet X 7.48 = gallons. For example, a pond that is 20 feet in diameter and 5 feet deep would be calculated as 3.14 x 10 x 10 x 5 = 1,570 x 7.8 = 12,246 gallons.
The best way to calculate water volume in an existing pond is to use dissolved salt measurements. You can accomplish this in three basic steps: measure water’s salinity, add salt and measure again. The difference between pre and post-measurements and the amount of salt added will indicate the total water volume in the pond.
One pound of salt in 12 gallons of water equals ten parts per thousand salinity; one pound in 100 gallons of water raises it to 120 ppt. Therefore, you can use the formula:
Pounds of salt X 120
% salinity change
The first step is to use the estimating volume method (cubic feet X 7.48) to calculate the approximate water volume in your pond. Divide that number by three and use it as your adjusted estimate, which will inform how much salt you add to the pond. For example, if your estimate is 1,800 gallons, use 600 as your baseline measurement for adding salt. This formula allows you to add enough salt to the pond to calculate volume while ensuring the safety of fish and plants.
Record a baseline measurement of the pond’s salinity. Doing so requires a salinity test kit, which you can purchase at a pond or garden store or online. Then add one pound of salt for every 100 gallons of estimated pond volume. In the example above, a 1,800-gallon pond with an adjusted estimate of 600 gallons would require six pounds of salt. Non-iodized, sodium chloride is the best type of salt to use in ponds with koi and goldfish. It is inexpensive, will not harm your biological filtration, is useful in treating parasites, and helps fight the effects of nitrite toxicity. Avoid water softener salts or other types that contain additives.
Recheck your pond’s salinity after 24 hours (this gives the salt enough time to dissolve) and subtract the original salinity value from the new one. For example, if the 1,800-gallon pond had 0.1 ppt salinity before adding the salt and then a 0.6 ppt reading after the salt, there would be a 0.5 ppt increase in the pond’s salinity.
The salinity formula is based on one pound of salt added to 1,000 gallons of pond water, weighing 8.34 pounds per gallon. Dividing 1,000 gallons by 8.34 gives an approximate multiplier of 120. Multiply 120 by the pounds of salt added (in this example, it would be 6). Then divide that number by your adjusted salinity measure to get the number of gallons in your pond (720/0.5 = 1,400 gallons).
Therefore, the hypothetical pond estimated at 1,800 gallons is actually 400 gallons less. Volume estimates typically overvalue the size of the pond, so this will occur in most cases.
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