Schmutzdecke

Even though I’m three-fourths German heritage, married to a 100 percent German heritage, I don’t know any of the language. I have become familiar with one German word. Seems I will be getting to use the word, “schmutzdecke,” this summer. As we continue our pond mitigation project with barley straw, we are going to be working with slow sand filters to filter out blue/green algae and other toxins from pond water. So what does schmutzdecke have to do with this?

Schmutzdecke is a German word for dirt cover or dirt skin. This is the film that forms on the top of the sand when pond water is sieved though.

In the schmutzdecke, lots of things start to grow – amoebae, protozoa, bacteria, crustaceans, algae and other microorganisms. It is not visible, but this dirt skin eats up all the toxins and algae from the water.

So slow sand filters are being built to use with pond water to filter out the harmful algae blooms. This technology has been tested by Harvard University for Third world countries, human drinking water. A quick internet search will demonstrate the concept. We are building our sand filters on a larger scale than the buckets or barrels you will see on the internet. We will be building filters out of the food grade chemical totes you see at so many farms and ranches these days.

There is some plumbing made out of PVC pipe inside, relatively easy to do. Then, a layer of gravel is applied and then a lot of sand. As the water filters through the tote, the schmutzdecke forms on top of the sand. This is a living biomass. To make sure that this is working 100 percent, we are enlisting the help of the Biological Survey folks at KU. They are going to “grow” blue/green algae for us and test the water as it comes out of the filter to make sure it’s working.

When the filters are applied at the stock pond, the water can be brought out of the pond through the tube in the dam, or pumped out using solar pumps. The livestock will be fenced out of the pond, to avoid accidental death by harmful algae blooms and they will drink the filtered water in a stock tank as it comes out of the filter.

We hope to have the filters tested and out in the counties by mid-summer, just in time for blue/green algae season. Our stock ponds are very low at this point, so fencing them off this summer may save cattle from getting stuck. I’m hoping for some big rains before that might happen.

It looks like we’ve got some pretty good chances for rain in the next two weeks. Hopefully, we can get some much needed moisture and get the ponds back up!

Jody Holthaus41 Posts

Jody Holthaus is the Meadowlark Extension District agent in the area of livestock and natural resources.

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