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Is Your Soil Suitable?

Is Your Soil Suitable?

by Steven P. Graber, Resource Soil Scientist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Dodge City, Kansas

I often get requests for soil investigations to determine if the soil in an area is suitable for a particular purpose. The purpose may be for a pit pond, an embankment pond, ag waste lagoon or storage pond, or a septic tank absorption field. Regardless of the purpose, what is below the surface is going to make all the difference in the world if the soil will function for the intended purpose or not.

Over the years, I have observed the overwhelming desire to have a pond in arid portions of western Kansas. If we can somehow overcome the obvious problem of lack of rainfall to keep water in the pond, sometimes the soils are completely unsuitable. In order for the pond to hold water, it needs to act like a bathtub with a permanent stopper in the drain. However, many times the site not only is missing the stopper, but it has numerous drain holes. This means that there is a lot of macro-pore space, exhibited by the presence of many rock fragments. Thus, it leaks like a sieve.

Where do the ponds need to be located? In the drains! What else is in the drains? Anything and everything that has washed out of the uplands for eons! In some locales, this is not clayey soil material, but fragments of limestone and sand. Either one of these creates the macro-pore space that is death to a pond, regardless if it is a pit pond or an embankment pond. Sometimes this is evidenced by the material that shows up on the surface or that is encountered in the process of exploring the site. Therefore, it is imperative that before spending money on a water impoundment of any sort, a soil investigation is in order to determine if the soils will be suitable for the pond. Depending on the type of material creating the macro-pore space, different methods of construction or sealing materials may be used to increase the water-holding capacity of the soil, but either way, it could be costly.

For more information about soil suitability, please contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office or conservation district office located at your local county USDA Service Center. To learn more about NRCS, visit the Kansas NRCS Web site at

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Is Your Soil Suitable? (DOC; 47 KB)