Understanding the Differences Between Ponds and Lakes

Difference Between Ponds and Lakes

Wondering about the difference between lake and pond bodies? It's a question that many water garden owners ask themselves when DIY-hunting. Whilst they may seem identical from regulatory point of view, there are some differences between these things of nature.

For example, lakes have deeper depths than ponds due to their accumulation over time through weathering process. Ponds generally shallow or shallow bodies (shallow enough, at least) which fill up seasonally.

Many people have often asked questions about their meaning, the debate has been long fought!

From an ecological or limnological perspective, there are differences. The differences, however, is somewhat arbitrary and not consistent or precise when it comes to the nomenclature. They're both water bodies - but the water makes all of the difference.

differences between ponds and lakes


The water quality of the surface waters of the state, including all lakes and ponds, is regulated through statutes (RSA 485-A) and rules (Env-Ws 1700). These laws and regulations make no distinction between lakes and ponds. Both have to meet all the same water quality standards.


The term “lake” or “pond” as part of a waterbody name is arbitrary and not based on any specific naming convention.

In general, lakes tend to be larger and/or deeper than ponds, but numerous examples exist of “ponds” that are larger and deeper than “lakes.”

For example, Echo “Lake” in Conway is 14 acres in surface area with a maximum depth of 11 feet, while Island “Pond” in Derry is nearly 500 acres and 80 feet deep.



Generally, they originated from the early settlers living near them, and the use of the terms “lake” and “pond” was completely arbitrary.

Specific to these bodies of water, a Lake is seen as larger in size with deeper depths than pond due to its accumulation over time through weathering process; Pond: generally have less deepness to their body which fills up seasonally.

The differences between pond and lake

The difference between a lake and a pond is that lakes are larger with a deeper depth due to their accumulation over time through weathering process. Ponds generally shorter depth or smaller bodies which fill up seasonally.

Many have changed names through the years, often changing from a pond to a lake with no change in size or depth.

Often these changes in name were to make the area sound more attractive to perspective home buyers.

lake or a pond

In limnology (the study of inland waters), surface waters are divided into lotic (waters that flow in a continuous and definite direction) and lentic (waters that do not flow in a continuous and definite direction) environments. This also takes into account the body of water and its display of waves.

Compared to our ponds that have artificial aeration and waterfalls to circulate and stimulate water movement.


These gradually fill in over geologic time and the evolution is from lake to pond to wetland.

This evolution is slow and gradual, and there is no precise definition of the transition from one to the next.

Early limnologists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries attempted to define the transition from a lake to a pond in various ways.

Area, depth or both were an essential part of most definitions, but what area or what depth differed.


A lake is a body of water that is deep enough to thermally stratify into two or three layers during the summer in temperate regions such as New Hampshire.

How deep a pond is depends on the geographical location due to difference in water temperature and depth. The top level of pond often has warmer, less dense water than that found deeper down with cooler, denser layers.

A pond may be shallow or it may be shallow pond

Ponds are generally a very small body of water which fill up seasonally due to rain or snow melt, while lakes can range in size and depth with the pond being an extreme example.

A pond is usually less than one acre in area, but exceptions exist such as that part of Lake Winnipesaukee on the east side of the island.

Back to pond vs lake: One question pond owners ask themselves is "Is this pond different than a lake?" There are no regulatory distinctions between ponds and lakes, but from an ecological or limnological perspective it's not that simple!

The contrast of a pond or lake

A pond is usually less than one acre in area but exceptions exist such as that part of Lake Winnipesaukee on the east side of the island.

These bodies of water often has deeper depths with larger body when compared to a pond and is usually found in temperate regions such as New Hampshire. A pond can be warmer, less dense water at the top level of pond than that found deeper down with cooler, denser layers.


Although we won’t attempt to define the distinction between a pond and wetland here (it is an even less precise distinction), ponds with emergent plants throughout would frequently be considered a wetland or marsh by many observers.

Limnologists today recognize that nature can’t be divided into precise, neat categories and accept the fact that there will never be a precise definition.

However, they also recognize that “deep” lakes and ponds function differently than “less deep” lakes and ponds, and modern limnology texts often discuss the two separately.

The generally accepted definition of a “shallow lake or pond body” is that class of shallow standing water in which light penetrates to the bottom sediments to potentially support rooted plant growth - such as rooted plants - throughout the waterbody.

Lack of thermal stratification and the presence of muddy sediments are also common characteristics of this class of water.

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