Warning – Thin Ice!

January 5, 2015
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Winter means colder temperatures and ice forming on water bodies in our area. People of all ages are tempted to venture out onto the ice, but it is not safe. The surfaces of ponds, lakes and creeks freeze first. But more often than not, the ice is not solid through and through, making it unsafe for ice skating.

Ice on stormwater ponds

The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is charged with inspecting the functioning and safety measures at all stormwater management ponds. As such, this blog will focus specifically on stormwater management (SWM) ponds in the County.


College Gardens pond

Stormwater ponds can look enticing in the winter, but you should never attempt to walk or skate on them.


All ice on SWM ponds in Montgomery County is dangerous…there is no such thing as a pond safe for skating! We never experience cold enough temperatures for durations long enough to freeze water (and keep it frozen) to depths thick enough to allow for safe skating on stormwater management ponds.

Stormwater management ponds, by design, collect sediment and store it until it is removed in a dredging process. When a person falls through the ice, the sediment at the bottom of the pond is not solid. It is thick and mushy, and when a person steps on it, they can get sucked in and stuck. Although the ponds are not particularly deep, the suction can trap a person…leading to drowning or hypothermia. Hypothermia can happen in a matter of minutes.


Footsteps in the snow lead directly to the unfrozen pond

Footsteps are visible in the snow and on the surface of the very thin ice on this pond. This is extremely dangerous, as the sediment below the surface can trap a person’s feet.


Please talk to your children (of all ages) about how dangerous thin ice can be. Tell them that skating on or entering a stormwater management pond can be deadly. There are loads of fun, safe skating opportunities in Montgomery County during the winter. Check your local town center or visit http://www.montgomeryparks.org/enterprise/ice/ to learn about skating opportunities in our parks.


Additional resources

For more information on winter safety, please visit our partners’ websites:

See Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service’s Ice and Cold Weather Safety Tips

Lt. Nicole Adams of Maryland-National Capitol Parks and Planning Commission talks about the dangers of ice on ponds in this short Youtube video.

Guest blog by Audra Lew, DEP Stormwater Facility Maintenance Program Planning Specialist


Semi-frozen pond

It’s never safe to skate on a stormwater management pond.


Sled marks on hill behind semi-frozen pond

There is evidence of sledding on the hill just behind the riser in the back of the photo. Sledding near ponds can be dangerous.



Geese and ducks walking on ice, courtesy of Paul Williams via Flickr

This ice may be safe for ducks and geese, but not for people! Photo courtesy of Paul Williams, via Flickr.


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