Most people can appreciate a good rainstorm from time to time. While rain can benefit your pond by providing a zero-cost, soft water supply free of chemicals like chlorine or chloramine, it can also potentially harm your pond. Rainwater quality varies depending on where you live, with heavily industrialized locations creating pollutants that spread through the air and mix with rain. These chemicals can include pesticides, heavy metals, and inorganic ions (like sulfate and nitrate), which can affect a pond negatively.
Rain and pH
Rain is most likely to affect your pond’s pH. The pH scale measures the acidity-alkalinity spectrum, which ranges from 0 to 14. Anything lower than seven is considered acidic, and above seven is alkaline (basic). For healthy and happy koi, between 7.0 and 8.6 is the ideal pH reading.
Though it depends on air and atmospheric influences, most pond owners can expect their rain to be fairly acidic. The normal pH of rain is 5.0 to 5.5, significantly lower than the neutral level that koi ponds need. The pH can drop even lower if pollution from cars and factories contaminates it. Low pH produces acidosis in koi, which can be fatal if untreated.
Precipitation with an abnormally low pH creates a condition known as acid rain. This occurs when your water’s pH parameter rapidly moves from a neutral balance to more acidic. This doesn’t mean that acid falls from the sky, but rain at this acidity level can introduce aluminum into the pond and cause a pH crash that kills fish and plants. Some regions in the country are more affected by acid rain than others, especially the Northeast.
After a significant rainfall is a good time to test your water parameters. If your pond’s pH starts to drop, you need to add buffers, which are anything that counters the increased acidity. Various chemical buffers are available on the market, or you can create your own using alternatives like baking soda or oyster shells.
Rain and Temperature
High winds, sleet, snow, or even an atypically cold rain can significantly impact your pond’s temperature and pH. Abrupt changes in water temperature are dangerous for fish, potentially causing life-threatening risks to their digestive and immune systems.
Koi’s internal systems slow down as water temperatures drop. When they decline gradually, koi will adjust by instinctively eating less. However, abrupt temperature drops can trap food in the digestive system.
When temperatures rise, pathogens in the water become more active and increase koi’s susceptibility to disease. Increasing temperature also elevates the fish’s oxygen demands at the same time that it lowers the life-sustaining oxygen levels in the water.
The ideal pond depth depends on the temperature fluctuation where you live. Large, shallow ponds are the most at risk for changes in temperature during rain. Ponds in areas with minimal temperature fluctuation throughout the year need to be at least 3 feet deep, but regions with more significant seasonal effects will need to be much deeper–sometimes 8 feet or more.
Rain and Runoff
Leaves, fertilizer, and other surface runoff will negatively affect your pond by blocking out sunlight, altering its chemical composition, and ultimately creating a dangerous environment for its inhabitants.
If you are building a pond, the higher the ground, the better. The lowest point in your yard is the worst place to install a pond. When the pond sits in the lowest part of a yard, run-off is more likely to accumulate, negatively impacting water quality and potentially harming the fish.
Refrain from using chemical fertilizers on your lawn to help ensure toxins don’t enter your pond. You may want to add a detoxifier to the pond and complete a partial water change if you believe fertilizer or pesticide has been washed into it.
A pond with sufficient drainage also will help prevent the accumulation of debris such as dirt, grass clippings, leaves, branches, and trash.
Rain and Oxygen
Your koi need well-oxygenated water of at least seven parts per million to stay healthy. Oxygen levels lower than three ppm will start to stress the fish and lead to behavior changes, sluggish growth, disease susceptibility, and eventually death.
The amount of oxygen in rainwater is typically around ten ppm, so it’s easy to assume that rain is not threatening your pond’s oxygen levels. However, the pollutants that rain can introduce to the pond, coupled with a temperature shift, can quickly negate its high oxygenation and lead to a net oxygen decrease.
Therefore, it helps to make sure that oxygen levels stay at a healthy level in the event of significant rainfall. The first step is to remove debris from the pond immediately. Leaves and branches will sink to the bottom of the pond and add to the sludge layer, which lowers oxygen levels.
Treat the pond water with beneficial bacteria after a storm to mitigate the spike in organic-matter growth. If you don’t already have one, install an aeration system to help circulate the water. This keeps temperature levels and oxygenation steady throughout the pond.
Rain and Flooding
Depending on your setup, heavy rainfall sometimes has the potential to wash fish out of your pond. Water from a significant storm also can accumulate under the pond liner, causing the pond to float.
Consider installing a pond overflow pipe if you live in an area with heavy rainfall. An overflow pipe is a horizontal or vertical pipe at the pond’s edge that moves excess water to another part of the garden or a water storage tank. Cover the pipe entrance with mesh or a screen, so your fish and plants do not get sucked into the pipe.
Alternatively, you could raise the pond’s rim several inches above the ground, protecting your fish in a flooding situation. You also can add a gravel area around the edge of your pond to help drain excess water or install a retaining wall at the lowest part of the pond.