A duck sits on top of a rock inside Eden Duck Pond.
A muscovy duck stands on top of a rock in a nearly-dry Eden Duck Pond on May 7. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Photographs of Eden Duck Pond from past years illustrate a thriving body of water with spirited wildlife. Today, large puddles of rainwater rest atop a vast surface of cracked clay where the pond once flourished. Waterfowl gather around plastic blue kiddie pools placed and replenished by Eden residents.

“Last year our pond went dry,” said Eden Homeowners Association President Myrtle Parks.

The pond sits adjacent to Thousand Oaks Drive; a roadside sign pleads passers-by to donate to the Eden Duck Pond’s GoFundMe page to help pay for its restoration.

The man-made pond, about half the size of an Olympic swimming pool, has no natural source of water. There is no natural way to detox or refresh the water other than replenish it from the San Antonio Water System. Membership in the homeowners association is completely voluntary, and annual dues – $50 per year with 200 members total – were not enough to pay for the expensive SAWS invoices before the pond eventually dried out. Parks said, “Our water bills were going up to $700 a month.”

This graph shows Eden Duck Pond's water use in gallons each month.
This graph shows Eden Duck Pond’s water use in gallons each month. Credit: Courtesy / Eden Home Owners Association

Residents of Eden have long struggled with issues related to the pond, such as erosion, algae, and overpopulation of turtles and non-native waterfowl; however, in July, water depletion became the primary concern. Parks said, “We called a pond specialist who said we had a cracked layer in our bentonite clay liner. It was devastating to us.”

The association decided to let the pond dry out completely and then start from scratch to create a pond that could thrive economically and environmentally.

Engineer and designer Troy Ellison of Outer Spaces of Texas, who helped Parks with a previous personal project, was completely on board with this plan. Ellison does not live in the Eden neighborhood, but he knew about the pond before interacting with Parks. “It’s iconic. You tell someone about the duck pond at Thousand Oaks and they know it,” he said.

Ellison said the pond occupies 15,000 square feet. The pond’s depth is just over 3 feet and holds about 336,000 gallons. Ellison said, “We needed to find the highest volume with the lowest surface area to reduce the evaporative loss. That’s the goal. Aesthetically it has to work too.”

Ellison presented his designs, pending engineering oversight, to the Eden Homeowners Association, which approved them.

A draft of Eden Duck Pond pending engineering oversight.
A draft of the Eden Duck Pond restoration pending engineering oversight. Credit: Courtesy / Outer Spaces of Texas

The association has surpassed its GoFundMe goal of $35,000, even though the page states only half the funds have been raised. The rest of the donations were given directly to the association from local businesses.

The money is enough to start with the restoration, but both Park and Ellison believe more money will flow in once the work begins. “We’re going to start on good faith and go as far as we can. It wouldn’t take much to close that gap [between funds raised and the total cost],” Ellison said.

Ellison is going to begin as soon as the ground is completely dry. “When one works in a hole, one must wait for dry weather,” he said.

Parks, 71, also corresponded with Texas Parks and Wildlife Urban Biologist Jessica Alderson to understand the pond’s ecosystem.

The Eden Duck Pond when it was filled with water.
Eden Duck Pond was once filled with water and teeming with wildlife. Credit: Courtesy / Myrtle Parks

Upon visiting the pond, Alderson noticed immediately that it was overpopulated. Too many animals occupying a small area is never positive. There is more risk of disease, more fighting, and more competition between the species, Alderson said. Before the pond was completely dry, ducklings were being eaten by turtles. Alderson also noted that quite a few of the birds had angel wing, a common syndrome that signals malnourishment in urban areas where birds are fed harmful foods such as bread.

Alderson also observed that most of the waterfowl on site were non-native ducks and geese. She said, “My recommendation as a biologist was to remove all the non-native species and euthanize them. They are taking away from the natural habitat and competing with migratory birds and native species.”

Euthanizing the waterfowl was unsettling for Parks and other neighbors. They wanted to find another solution. “We have to keep our ducks and try to control their population. Our people have a great appreciation for the waterfowl. We have to come to a balance,” Parks said.

Alderson is understanding and positive.

“People have high emotional attachments to these animals,” she said, noting the pond could be a great water resource for migratory species using it for a stopover habitat. “There’s a lot of good that can come from the liner crack. [Eden residents] could make it something even better than they already have if they do the right planning and promote native plants. Making the pond deeper will help with water quality. Improving natural vegetation will help.”

In the meantime, neighbors and the surrounding community are excited for the construction to begin. Jimi Khoh, owner of Massage Solutions, is not an Eden resident but has lived about 2 miles from the pond for nearly 20 years.

“[The pond is] like an oasis in this neighborhood,” he said. “I fell in love with it. I bring my friends there. I was devastated when the pond dried up and offered to help.”

Khoh gave the association four $70 gift certificates for its silent auction and volunteered to give chair massages during their fundraising events and donate the tips to the cause.

Regardless of what happens, Ellison said, “I’m glad people are taking interest in it. I’m humbled by it all. I just dig ditches for a living.”

Information regarding the Eden Pond Preserve and its wildlife is displayed in a case next to the pond.
Information about Eden Pond Preserve and its wildlife is displayed in a case next to the dried-up pond. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report
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Bonnie Arbittier

Bonnie Arbittier worked as a photojournalist for the San Antonio Report.