How to reclaim your dugout's water quality

The early spring runoff that graciously filled your dugout appeared to be clean, clear, ready-to-use water.

But now, plants and/or algae have taken over your dugout and seem unwilling to give back the fresh water you had just a short time ago. If that's your situation, don't despair because you can reclaim your dugout.
What you might not realize is that spring runoff also contained a fresh supply of nutrients. If your dugout water is replenished every year by runoff, your dugout is likely getting an overdose of nutrients.

This overdose is a plant's dream. Your dugout's aquatic plants and algae use the nutrients to grow. In the case of increased nutrients, the aquatic vegetation will flourish in your dugout, possibly creating toxic effects such as with blue-green algae.

As well, drought conditions result in lower dugout water levels which add to aquatic plant and algae problems. The reason is lowered dugout level allows more sunlight penetration and will provide energy (photosynthesis) for aquatic vegetation to thrive.


There are ways to improve and reclaim your water quality. Prevention is the golden key for controlling aquatic vegetation problems. All of the following preventive measures are effective, but do take time to work.

One measure is to build a dike around your dugout to reduce the amount of nutrients from entering your dugout. Another way to reduce the flow of nutrients into a dugout is by grassing the waterways.

Another critical prevention step is to keep your livestock out of your dugout. Livestock trampling up and down the banks of your dugout can lead to serious erosion problems. Livestock manure or septic systems can also contain an abundant amount of nutrients and bacteria that will feed the aquatic plant life.

Treatment a key

A second key to dugout water quality is treatment. Treatment can be costly, and proper steps must be followed to ensure effective treatment. Depending on your budget and dugout conditions, there are a few solutions.

The first step is to determine whether one or both of algae or aquatic plants are your dugout's problem. The second step is deciding whether you'll use a chemical or mechanical treatment method.

Although mechanical methods may be effective they may not suit everyone. The best mechanical methods are labor intensive such as hand pulling or raking the aquatic vegetation.

Although chemical treatments are effective, not everyone likes the thought of adding chemicals to their water. And, if you decide to chemically treat your dugout you'll need to know the effects to the local environment . You'll need to answer questions such as: Do you have any fish? Does the dugout water drain into a watershed area?

There are different types of chemicals available for controlling aquatic vegetation. The most commonly used chemicals are copper sulphate (bluestone), hydrated lime, Reglone A (with diquat), and aluminum sulphate (Alum).

Some chemicals work on both plants and algae and others work better on one or the other. Application rates vary depending type of chemical treatment you choose and on the amount of water currently in your dugout.

Bluestone is effective for blue-green types of algae and ineffective for plant control. However, it's relatively inexpensive and is easy to apply. Reglone A is effective against plants, but has a limited effect on algae.

Hydrated lime is effective against both algae and plants, and has an added bonus of settling out the available nutrients in the water reducing the supply for aquatic vegetation. Alum is an effective coagulant for dugouts and is used for settling out fine sediment in dugout water.

Benefits of aeration

Do note, that although the mechanical and chemical treatment methods are effective, they are only effective for a short periods. You can extend this time period and maximize treatments by aerating your dugout. A small electric air compressor or windmill type aerator will help increase the needed amount of oxygen in your water.

Good water quality is very important to everyone. Creating a proper ecological program for your dugout water supply through prevention, treatment and maintenance can ensure quality water for the future.

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