Land Park pond transformed from fetid to clear as it reopens after $600,000 renovation

The largest pond in Sacramento’s William Land Park reopened earlier this month after a renovation that dragged on for 16 months – about eight times as long as originally anticipated.

Today the water in the pond is clear rather than the muck-brown opaque color that it was before the the renovation started.

The project included draining the water, dredging out sludge and increasing the depth of Boat Lake Pond, which features an island and a bench-studded pathway at the water’s edge. Similar renovations were completed at the McKinley Park pond last June.

Both the McKinley and Land Park pond renovations were slated to start simultaneously in summer 2016. The total construction was originally estimated to take six to eight weeks for each project.

But Park Planning and Development Manager Gary Hyden said there are always issues in construction. For Boat Lake Pond, those issues consisted of last winter’s heavy rainfall, avoiding construction during nesting seasons and having to evacuate wildlife.

The turtles were particularly difficult, said Hyden. Most of the ones that lived in Boat Lake Pond were a non-native species and could not be returned to the area when the project was complete, resulting in a mass adoption event before renovations started.

After the wildlife had been removed and the nesting season was over, the rain came.

Boat Lake pond is close to the river, said Hyden, which causes issues with the groundwater. The water bubbles up into the pond and last year’s “super-wet winter” made it hard for the contractor to pump it out. So construction was halted until the weather cleared.

Not everyone agrees with the city’s reasoning behind the project’s delay.

Richard Stevenson, a member of the Land Park Volunteer Corps, and Judy McClaver, a board member of East Sacramento Preservation, said the pond project was fraught with problems, including poor management, issues with the contractor and locals being kept out of the process.

The City Council established a technical advisory committee, which included McKinley and Land Park area residents, city staffers and a biologist. Young said the committee acted as a liaison between the community and the city and contractor.

“Decisions regarding the project were made in consultation with the members of the committee,” said Young, adding that the city also held two public meetings – one with the Land Park Community Association and one with McKinley Park residents.

McClaver, who served on the committee, said it was ineffective and established for public relations.

Both McClaver and Stevenson agreed that the biggest problem with the project was the decision to use a synthetic pond liner.

“From our point of view, if we didn’t have the pond liners, this sucker would have been done well over a year ago,” said Stevenson.“The entire disaster here we attribute to the liner.”

Pond liners caused construction difficulties, McClaver argued. She said that the pond could have been easily sealed with clay and noted the ponds have existed for a long time without liners.

Stevenson said that he thinks the city was being misled by the contractor, just “something that was done to jack up the price of the contract.”

Hyden said the pond needed a liner to keep water from leaching into the soil.

Dennis Day, the project manager, said using a clay liner would have required importing enough clay to create a 2-feet-thick layer on the bottom of the pond. In turn, another 2 feet of soil would need to be dug up and exported. He said a polyethylene liner was the most cost effective option from the list of recommendations provided by the geotechnical engineer.

Hyden said detractors of the pond projects are not engineers or experts, and the city hired both to guide them through the planning and construction. He also noted that the contractor and the project proposal approved by the City Council were recommended by the technical advisory committee.

Eventually, the other two ponds at Land Park will need to be renovated as well but there aren’t any plans currently in the works. Hyden said it is an expensive process and the ponds will get renovated when funds become available.

The original combined cost for both the McKinley and Land Park ponds was $971,537, with the Boat Lake renovation making up $533,685 of that. In the end, the price tag for the project at Land Park ended up being $602,745 due to delays and a few construction issues.

Now, Stevenson said, all that’s left for Boat Lake Pond is to spruce up the foliage growing around it that wasn’t maintained during the renovation.

The pond’s upkeep will be left to a maintenance contractor, said Hyde, which is something that Land Park didn’t have before.

“If we were going to spend the money to renovate the pond we need to maintain it properly,” said Hyden.

Despite the delays, people from the neighborhood were quick to start enjoying Boat Lake Pond when the fence finally came down earlier this month. There were even signs that some of the wildlife might make a comeback – a small flock of geese settled on the pond just before sunset.

Sam Apps, who has frequented Land Park for the last 10 years, was surprised when he saw that the pond wasn’t blocked off anymore and said that everyone was going to be happy to see it open again, not just him.

“It’s a beautiful place,” he said.