Sept. 1 2008 12:00 AM

WHEN UNCLE SAM TURNS GREEN, should you as a business person be concerned? Maybe. Until recently, most pond installers or irrigators never paid much attention to or had to be concerned with the EPA or the subordinate Water Sense Program.

The EPA developed the Water Sense program in 2004 to offer guidelines for water conservation. In 2008, the EPA’s Water Sense Program, now with stakeholder input which includes the International Professional Pond Contractors Association (IPPCA) and the Irrigation Association (IA) along with other trade associations, has developed guidelines for a Water Sense Single Family New Home Construction. To get a Water Sense label for your new home, your builder needs to follow these guidelines. That has gotten the attention of pond installers, landscapers and irrigation contractors.

To understand how or why the feds got involved in these types of scenarios, let’s digress a bit. The Clean Water Act was originally enacted in 1948. It was totally revised by amendments in 1972 that gave the Act its current shape.

From the Congressional website: The Federal Water Pollution Act was revised in 1972 because of a growing public concern across the nation. For example, the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire. The Saginaw River in Michigan was so polluted that it did not freeze over in the winter.

Amendments to the 1972 Clean Water Act were created in 1977, 1981 and 1987. These amendments provide a complete framework of standards, technical tools, and economic aid to address the many activities that can produce pollution and adversely alter water quality, including municipal and industrial waste water discharges, polluted runoff from urban and rural areas, and habitat destruction (from the spicer website).

I bring this up because the Clean Water Act of 1981 has been erroneously blamed for changes in city codes that have impacted my area, Omaha, Nebraska. Guidelines that were established on the federal level in 1981 have been periodically updated throughout the ’90s and 2000s. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality adopted its most recent update in 2003.

During these years of drought, when water issues are in the headlines, more municipalities are adopting federal guidelines because they have neither the time nor the financial resources to establish their own.

In June 2008, the Omaha City Council passed an update to their plumbing codes, Article XX Division II “Water Features.” The Article XX codes are mostly a copy and paste from the pool and spa codes. Some are doable for the pond industry. However, to show that the intent does not always mesh with the letter of the law, let us address some sections of the new code.


“Water Features” includes, but are not limited to, water fountains, ponds, fish ponds, waterfalls, spray parks. Of these, the only one that is chlorinated is spray parks. Most ponds, fish ponds or waterfalls with or without pond attachments, as well as many fountains are eco-friendly. Or they are eco-systems that are living water areas, by nature as well as definition, having living fish, plants, and water quality able to sustain life. Many are considered wildlife or backyard habitats.

Sec. 49-2043— Materials

(a) Circulation piping shall be type L copper with pressure type fittings or Schedule 40 or 80 PVC pressure pipe with pressure type fittings. A primer is mandatory when using PVC. Many water features use a flex PVC that is pressure-rated and most building codes now allow Schedule 40 or 80 PVC. It should be noted that copper is not suitable for ponds because it will affect the health of the fish and the eco-system of the pond over the long term.

Sec. 49-2046—Discharge of waste

Waste from a water feature shall discharge to the sanitary sewer using an indirect waste and shall meet the following: This means that what was an eco-friendly discharge is now considered gray water and now must be added to the sanitation system of Omaha. This is the main point of Sec. 49- 2046.

Sec. 49-2049—Equipment foundations

All equipment shall be set on a concrete base capable of supporting it. A majority of the backyard water features as marketed in the late ’90s and early 2000s use a submersible pump and pond skimmer that is counter productive, and a waste of time and resources, to set on a concrete base. They were obviously designed to a different set of need and use parameters than pool and spa equipment.

Sec. 49-2050—Discharge onto public or private property

Water features shall be designed to eliminate spray or any discharge onto public sidewalks, streets or any areas not under the control of the property owner, including other private property. Most pond people know spring cleanings can be messy and are necessary for some ponds. However, this is why people at city halls across the country get called—“The next door neighbor just cleaned his pond and washed out my flower bed, or landscaping, or backyard and now I can’t mow.”

Why were these codes installed? Because people installing or maintaining ponds that are non-professional in their actions brought the wrath of a city council down on themselves. The city council became tired of these calls and needed to fix what it saw as a problem.

That is the crux of this article: cities with no budgets and no idea what it is you do are adopting guidelines that another agency put together. This event is not limited to the pond industry but to every profession in the marketplace. Be grateful that trade associations like the International Professional Pond Contractors Association and the Irrigation Association keep an eye on our industries and network with other agencies throughout the country to get the correct information into the hands of those who act on your behalf.

To quote Ben Franklin, “If we do not hang together, then we shall surely hang separately.”