Understanding and Meeting Local Requirements for Your Natural Swim Pond

In most rural areas, small backyard ponds designed for swimming are not controlled by any local authorities or permitting offices. This is different in most suburban and urban areas where there are much tighter controls on water features and watershed uses. Depending on how you build and design your pond, you may need to treat it like a traditional pool and install a wide range of safety features to stay on the right side of local laws. Talk to your county’s planning and permissions office before making any changes on your property to ensure you’ve met all the relevant requirements.

Fencing Requirements

Many areas require that all pools, especially in-ground water features, are surrounded by fences that keep children away from the water. Swimming ponds may qualify as pools in some areas, while other counties may consider natural ponds free from fencing requirements. Fencing in your natural pond may be a good idea even if it’s not required since it keeps curious pets and wildlife away from the water as well. Security fencing is generally at least 4 feet tall and must include a latched gate to prevent unauthorized access.

Depth and Line of Sight

Two features that may determine if a pond requires fencing or not are depth and line of sight from a road or other public area. If you build your natural swimming pond where it’s visible from the nearest public road or sidewalk, you may have to secure it with a fence to discourage the public from accessing it. Ponds over a certain depth are also more likely to qualify for fencing and other security features due to the extra risk of drowning or injury. Steep bank sides also increase this risk. Shallow ponds that are tucked away behind your home or a barrier screen of evergreen plants are less likely to require extensive security features just to keep you qualified for home insurance.

Local Codes and Setbacks

Not all properties zoned for residential use allow for the creation of water features like ponds. Some local building codes restrict the construction of new water features like ponds, especially those over a certain size. If you only own a property that’s an acre or two in size, you may not be able to build a large swimming pond even in a relatively rural area. Even zoning codes that allow for home pond construction may limit the placement of the feature based on setbacks to keep the water away from your neighbors’ property lines. Check up on setbacks before selecting a site to ensure your swimming pond will fit on your land.

Environmental Planning Permissions

At the state level of planning permissions, many states require homeowners to request environmental assessments before building a pond of a certain size. Some states require even the smallest personal ponds to undergo environmental impact planning. This permitting process often takes longer than local inspections and permissions. Give your state level environmental permits anywhere from six months to 1 year to come through before planning to begin construction.

You may need half a dozen or more different state and county permits before starting construction on a natural pond. See if your county offers a planning liaison to help guide you through the process since every part of the country has its own requirements for pond construction.


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