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Article 38: Water Returns - Designing, by Jeff Richardson

Posted by Jeff Richardson on

Since your feature needs a pump to remove and pass water through a filter in order to clean it, ultimately it must return to the pond.  The first thing to ask is “What is possible?”  There are countless ways to return water to a water feature from the filter system.  This could be a direct return from the filter to the pond as some housings come with a built-in weir allowing water to spill directly out of the filter housing into the pond.  You could build a structure around the filter or add a berm of dirt, etc.  However, if you want something more expansive, natural, architectural or dramatic, the options are endless.   

Types of Returns: There are many ways to return water to the feature, and you may desire one or multiple of these.  For instance, in the case of a marsh water feature, a large supply pipe would return the water below the surface.  This would quietly and slowly return the water with minimal disturbance but cycle the water.  There could be multiple jet discharges that move the water’s surface or even create a whirl.  Fountains and spitters are another way to return water.  Another would be a lazy stream nearly at the same elevation as the main pool.  Or this could be a series of small steps or a slope to increase the speed of the water in the bed turning it into a babbling brook or stream.  Increase the slope some more and you have a whitewater or rapids.  Finally, create a shear drop, and you have yourself a waterfall.  All of these could be the sole way to return the water, or used in combination.  Some people only build streams that pass through landscape perhaps going from fast, rushing areas to slow meandering or bog-like features – with no central return pool.  The same feature may start far from where it ends and transform throughout.

Decentralized Features: It must be stated that sometimes the focus may be a garden and landscaping with water only complementing it.  You may have many fountains, statuary, small streams or ponds – all separate with their own small pumps, containers, etc.  However, this can be much greater cost, work and maintenance.  You could cleverly make this spitting statue here feed from a central reservoir, pump and filter system with connection line to this statue and the basin draining into a return.  This could be repeated in a small pond or bog, a fountain, a pondless water feature, all of which seem separate but are all a part of one water feature system.  A hidden supply and a separate waste line would run to each fixture ending at a pump and filter basin. This would be far cheaper in the long run and much easier to maintain the water. 

Costs: Distance is the first consideration both in elevation above your feature and physical distance away.  Remember though, the further and higher your discharge water from your pump will result in higher head pressure.  This means to move x-gallons of water from point A to point B will decrease with distance and elevation.  Therefore, you will need to increase pump capacity and plumbing size the farther and higher you go to achieve the same flow rate versus lower and shorter runs.  This further and/or higher distance from the intake also means more excavation, more plumbing, more liner and potentially more landscaping – all of which will cost more money. 

Topography: If your yard is flat, featureless plain with no elevation gains or depressions, depending on what you desire of the return, you would have to decide what to change in the initial space.  If you desire a high waterfall, you could consider a wall, building or shed for the water to be raised to and fall out of.  The water feature could emerge from the wall like a formal waterfall weir or emerge from a chute like an old mill – perhaps turning a water wheel.  If you wish for a more natural state, you can raise a berm (perhaps from the spoil you excavated from the main pool).  Be aware, if you have a very large, flat yard with no elevation – making a small berm right next to the pond sometimes looks unnatural.  If you have lots of ground, it may be worth your time to hire a landscaper or rent a bobcat to create elevation changes on a larger scale.  Remember, the elevation lets you create slopes which determine the speed of the water flow.  Of course, the high area will be where you locate your pump discharge and the lowest area will be where your pump intakes reside.  If you have slopes and uneven terrain in your yard, try to work with the contours of the land.  Not only will this save you lots of labor digging, it will look more natural to see stream in a former ravine, or a pond nestled in a hilly curve.  Bear in mind; when excavating, waste lines go below the water feature (see Article 16 – Waste Systems).  Rough in these trenches and pipes first then cover leaving only the ends exposed that will hook to pond features.  Cover with a plastic bag and rubber bands to protect them from debris while you build and excavate.

Altering the Landscape: There are a few pitfalls when designing your new topography you want to avoid.  First, reference real-life nature for shapes of hills, curves, ravines and such.  You may notice the same reoccurring “factual” patterns.   The same shapes in clouds can be seen in river deltas.  Use nature as your guide so the new topography looks natural.  Next, ensure the design doesn’t run in complete opposition to the surrounding areas.  You want it to blend in, not look like it was dropped in.  Lastly, just like with pond flora and fauna, choose your surrounding landscape wisely.  Put in plants that work in your climatic zone and hardiness.  Choose lightly or non-shedding plants near features.  You don’t want your returns and features filled with debris or spend a lot of money on plants that cannot tolerate your home’s climatic zone.

 

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