Case Study: Building Large Water Features
THE INCREASING POPULARITY OF ponds and large water features among residential and commercial markets translates into a high profit margin for your business, and are simpler to build than you think. For this article, we will focus on the mechanics and technique of how to build a large water feature.
Recently, Hydro-Scape Products, Inc., a distributor of landscape and irrigation products, with branches in Southern California along with Mystic Water Gardens, Tarzana, California, hosted an advanced, hands-on “Build-a-Pond Day.” This hands-on seminar was held at a private residence where the pond was built. The event provided an outlet for contractors to learn “tricks of the trade” on lining a pond, rocking a waterfall, installing a biological bog system, hooking up multiple pumps and more. Contractors walked away with a well-rounded education on technique, flair and execution of the easy, step-by-step process involved in building water features.
The project: to build a 11' x 16' pond, flowing into a 4' waterfall, connected by way of a 45' stream. From barely prepped ground, the large water feature was flowing water in less than a day and a half.
The large water feature was designed to fit the existing landscape. The area was excavated to locate an upper pond. Then the 4' waterfall was designed to flow over an existing retaining wall to spill into a 45' stream to the lower 18' x 10' pond. Because the land was sloped, berms were built up against the outside to curve the stream. Piping was laid down first before the berm was built so soil could be laid on top of the pipe, lessening the amount of trenching.
Lining the complete water feature was next, using a 50' x 25' rubber liner, 45 millimeters thick. A 50' x 25' underlayment was put down before the rubber liner, so as to prevent roots and sharp objects from going into the pond, and also to be used for weed control. The 50' x 25', 45 millimeter Aquascape liner was smoothed out over the excavated ground by hand. Both the underlayment and liner were kept approximately 5' outside of the waterfall, pond and stream, to prevent leaks from occurring. “Learning how to line a pond is very important,” said Steve McLean, general sales manager, Hydro-Scape Products, San Diego, California. “Receiving hands-on teaching translates into lining the pond correctly.”
A skimmer was installed at the end of the pond, which is where the pump is located—in this case, two pumps; one to power the waterfall. Setting the skimmer is important because where it sits determines the water level. A laser transit was used to determine the level. Two pumps were used equally to pump out 9,000 gph, being pushed through 200' of 2" flexible pipe to power the waterfall.
The skimmer at the base pond acts as a mechanical filter, filtering waste and sediment before it can clog the pump. A centipede snorkel unit was used to create a bog filtration system at the top of the waterfall. Hydro-Scape decided to install Aquascape’s snorkel and centipede inside of a large cut piece of liner. This created a bog system in the basin of the waterfall. A bog system, also known as a wetland filtration system, is biological in that, as nutrients accumulate in the water, aquatic plants—which are planted in the bog filtration— absorb the unwanted nutrients with their roots. This helps to cut down on algae growth and encourages plants that produce oxygen to root and thrive. Biological filtration systems are more natural and require less maintenance, whereas mechanical systems are costly and more complicated.
Montecito Rock was used to rock the ponds, waterfall and stream. Twelve- to 18-inch, 24- to 36-inch and 2- to 3-foot boulders were used strategically to keep the look natural. Big rocks were used to frame in the waterfall and were also used throughout the water feature to add shape and points of interest. After the rocking was complete, LED lights were then installed in between the rocks to hide the wiring, placed 8 to 10 inches below the water level.
Fewer rocks were used on the waterfall to make the look more natural. Using two large framing boulders and then a smaller rock, which usually has one flat side, in the middle of the waterfall also gave a more natural look. Black waterfall foam was then applied into the gaps and small chip rocks, then gravel was placed on top of the foam.
Some tips on rocking any water feature:
•Use bigger rocks in a waterfall versus using a lot of small rocks.
•Use gravel to fill in the cracks, hence not using a whole can of foam—you want to use gravel more, and then fill in cracks with foam.
•When large boulders are placed around a pond, it is better to have soil placed up against the rock. Less rock used outside of the pond gives more of a natural appearance. Take terrestrial plants and place them up against the outside of the pond. Getting the right angle of the foam is important, to create the most fluid-looking fall. To clean the gun, stick it right into the dirt and shave off remains.
After rocking was completed, the pond was filled to its proper level, and then edge treatment was applied. To get the job done efficiently, have two guys working on the edge treatment while the rest of the crew is working on properly rocking the waterfall to get the job moving. Putting treatment on the liner edges was an intricate task. When all was done with no water running out of the edges anywhere, the liner edges were treated to make sure they disappeared into the pond.
Some tips on applying edge treatment:
•It is important to make a proper fold on the liner—try to have a straight fold and avoid scrunching.
•Dig a small trench along the edge of the pond, and then bury the folded liner, all while keeping the liner very straight. Accent with soil against the liner using a small shovel to make a perennial edge. Again, it is important to keep the fold straight.
•Don’t pinch the liner between two rocks because you can possibly cause a tear. Lastly, a 4-foot by 10-foot piece of slate stone was laid across as a walkway over the stream to complete the job. “The best way to learn about building ponds is by watching and doing it,” says Steve Sandalis, owner of Mystic Water Gardens, a water feature installation company and installer of ponds. “The 20 steps of building a pond are very easy,” said Sandalis, the instructor for this project. “It is the aesthetics that are tricky to get. You have to learn through trial and error.”
Contractors were pleasantly surprised to find out how easy it was to build a pond, and instructors offered tips on how to begin adding ponds and water features to their repertoire of services.