Sludge removal
Workers remove sludge from UNM's Duck Pond.
Credit: Rachel Stone

Fifty thousand gallons of organic sludge, a fishing pole, a bowling ball, a mannequin, shopping carts, three radios, two chairs and a host of other items are typically found in the Duck Pond during its routine Spring Break cleaning every other year. 

Cleaning a pond this size is no easy feat, taking over 400 hours of labor to complete. The Physical Plant Department is responsible for its care and upkeep and do everything they can to ensure the health and safety of all inhabitants of the pond during the cleaning process.

“The Duck Pond has become a popular destination for students to relax in between their classes, and community members think it’s the perfect spot for weddings and celebrations, photography, or a place to bring your children on a nice day,” said Dr. Gary Smith, associate director of PPD Environmental Services.

The PPD Grounds & Landscaping division cleans the pond every other year first by drawing the water out of the pond. Once water levels are lowered, PPD staff capture and relocate the pond’s aquatic animals to holding tanks provided by the Biology Department at Castetter Hall. These oxygenated tanks allow the fish, turtles and other animals to be housed with reduced stress, and the Biology staff monitor the health of the animals alongside a university veterinarian.

Aquatic animals are kept safely in holding tanks and monitored by the UNM Department of Biology while the Duck Pond is cleaned.

Once the water is mostly removed, the sludge is sucked into large tanker trucks and hauled away.

Turtles, koi, goldfish and crayfish live in the pond, while a variety of wild duck species rely on it for open water during the winter months, while a few pair of these ducks make it their home year round. PPD has found that community members tend to drop off their unwanted domesticated ducks in the summer time because the pond is a convenient drop-off point.

These ducks cannot fly and have a difficult time providing for themselves at the Duck Pond. As a result of an overabundant duck population, as well as heavy feeding of bread products which provides little to no benefit to the ducks, the Duck Pond must be drained and cleaned every two to three years to remove accumulated sludge and other debris. 

PPD Area 3 maintenance staff performed a variety of maintenance on the pumps, inlet screens, filters and piping. Also, the wooden piers on the bridge were reinforced with concrete to ensure their stability. New turtle and fish habitats were added in the form of stumps and logs from fallen trees during an epic storm in July of 2013.

Willie West, the manager of the PPD Grounds & Landscaping division said, “Prior planning, coordination and tremendous cooperation between a variety of campus entities as well as private contractors, resulted in this project being completed on time with minimal disruption to the campus community.”