Discussing the dangers of retention ponds in Naperville

Retention ponds are plentiful in suburban developments as a means to handle excess water. But, officials in Naperville may soon look at regulations for retention ponds after a 6 year old recently drowned:

The pond, near the Glenmuir Luxury Rental Homes complex where Amer lived, reaches about 10 feet at its deepest point and is one of more than 200 bodies of water in Naperville — many of them man-made ponds created in recent decades to ease flooding when subdivisions were built, Naperville Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said.

“Most of the ponds don’t have fencing or barriers,” Puknaitis said. “It’s highly impractical to do that with every pond. Even if you did, there’s nothing stopping somebody from scaling it.”

Several city council members agree that requiring fencing isn’t the best way to prevent future tragedies.

While fencing may seem an obvious way to prevent children from getting too close to retention ponds or falling in, Novack said there is a stormwater management reason not to install them: they block the flow of water during floods and slow the drainage process.

When single-family homes are constructed in the sprawling American manner, retention ponds are a necessity. Developing land and building homes often involves flattening land and disrupting the natural drainage. This is particularly an issue in swampier or low-lying areas where water already collected. They are so common that they are a ubiquitous “natural” presence that are often used as play areas or places to walk dogs. But while these ponds may seem natural, they are a carefully constructed part of the suburban infrastructure.

However, there are means by which to make retention ponds safer:

She said the recent trend toward letting natural vegetation grow along the shores of ponds helps to keep people — and Canada geese — away from the water and could contribute to increased safety.

So could using streams landscaped with native plants instead of large ponds to store water, Brodhead and Novack said.

In other words, it might take a little extra planning or effort but there are ways to “naturalize” the drainage. Communities could require developers to utilize these methods around retention ponds. And even if accidents in ponds are rare, it is hard to argue against safety in suburban settings.