Stock ponds, generally small and sometimes transitory, are nevertheless the most ubiquitous source of water in the Great Plains. They occur from Texas to Alberta, wherever there is free-ranging livestock and su.cient surface water or available groundwater. Frequency of occurrence varies also with soil type: there are fewer ponds on permeable soils, such as loess, than on clay soils, which hold the water at the surface. On the Southern Plains they are known as tanks.
There are two types of stock ponds: the embankment pond, which dams a stream or periodic runoff channel, and the excavated pond, where a hole is dug to intersect the water table. The latter–common on floodplains and in other areas, such as the Nebraska Sandhills, where the water table is high–is more dependable because groundwater fluctuates less than surface runoff. Since the nineteenth century, farmers have constructed their own ponds using basic farm equipment; now larger projects may necessitate heavy excavating equipment, and subsidies are available through various conservation programs.
Critics argue that the ponds contribute to the depletion of river flow by impounding runoff. In the balance, however, advantages outweigh any disadvantages. The ponds are a good source of livestock water, allowing wellwatered cattle to range widely across pastures. They are often stocked with fish for recreational purposes, and they are points of attraction for wildfowl, which breed there. And aesthetically, the muddy stock pond, ringed by attendant cattle, is a defining Plains scene.
David J. Wishart University of Nebraska-Lincoln