Pond Construction – Best Practices Make PERFECT

A tiered pond at Cabela’s.
A tiered pond at Cabela’s.

Indoor water feature design & construction best practices

One of the specialities of Cabela’s Outdoor Outfitters is providing store visitors the opportunity to enjoy a close-up encounter with freshwater aquatic life. Cloward H2O has had the privilege of working with Cabela’s on 33 in-store aquariums and aquatic life water features over the past eight years.

Most recently, Cabela’s and Cloward H20 commissioned two new aquariums in January of 2013: one in Columbus, Ohio and one in Grandville, Mich. This ongoing collaboration has allowed Cloward H2O and Cabela’s the opportunity to refine and improve the process, the final product, and the guest experience. Over time, this collaborative approach has allowed Cloward H2O and Cabela’s to develop some “best practices” that may aid you in your next project.

Primary Project Objectives

Project designs and engineering should drive and support the primary project objectives. The primary objective of every water feature (be it aquarium, stream, pond, or waterfall) is to provide visitors and guests a meaningful experience. In the case of Cabela’s, it’s a “real life” habitat experience, allowing guests to enjoy the beauty of fish in a seemingly natural habitat.

The secondary goal is for guests not to notice everything else that went into engineering and creating the water feature or habitat itself. That effort — to keep the supporting structures, mechanical systems, and life support components quietly incorporated — is where the primary project objectives of the collaboration between Cloward H2O (who is responsible for design and engineering) and Cabela’s pay off.

The Big Picture

One significant key to a successful water feature, pond, or aquarium is seeing and engineering with the big picture in mind. Successful projects begin when all parties involved collaborate and understand what the client wants each visitor or guest to experience. Each Cabela’s store is unique and the aquatic life on display is native to the surrounding area. The localization of the fish and habitat provides store guests the ability to connect with the display as they see those same fish in the wild. Before you begin your next project, ensure that you and your team know exactly what the end goal is. Document your discussion and meetings as part of your project communication plan.

Design and Engineer with the End in Mind

The best design and engineering is done with the end in mind. Take the necessary time to evaluate the environment, the constraints imposed by code or federal and local law (where applicable), and the physical space in which the guest will experience the water feature. Every project is different, regardless of whether you have worked with the client before. Even though each Cabela’s retail store is similar in layout, aquatic life presentation, water feature design, and engineering, no two final projects are exactly the same.

For example, it is not uncommon to use a different (local) rockwork contractor for each store construction. Even though the design and engineering is based on a tried-and-true approach (typically a best practice established by what has been done in other stores), the way the rockwork is formed can dramatically impact the way a waterfall is formed and the overall flow characteristics into the water feature and habitat. To address this, Cloward H2O and the Cabela’s project team provide the rockwork contractor the exact amount of water feeding the waterfall (called flow rate) that is required to support the habitat. This allows the rockwork contractor to form the waterfall, meet the artistic requirements, and ensure the proper flow rate is achieved to support the water feature and the habitat.

Life Support — Water Quality

The life support systems designed and engineered for Cabela’s by Cloward H2O use state-of-the-art components, each selected to ensure a healthy habitat and aquatic life support system. This attention to detail allows the local aquarist to focus on the fish and not the process or the mechanics. Cutting corners, missing details, or deviating from the engineering plan can compromise water quality, place the habitat and aquatic life at risk, and prove costly.

Resource Management — Water, Power, Chemicals

Resource management is a priority for every project. The collaboration between Cabela’s and Cloward H2O ensures that resource management is prioritized. This includes the use of water treatment (filtration, sanitation, habitat support) components and strategies designed to minimize the loss of water, optimize the use of chemicals, and incorporate power management systems and automation to minimize energy use. Substituting a component specified in the engineering plan with a different component can potentially introduce unforeseen impacts to the entire system. In order to safeguard the habitat and fish, Cloward H2O requests that all contractor equipment shop drawings be submitted and approved by the Cloward H2O Project Manager prior to installation. This ensures that the planning and effort spent designing and engineering the life support system is not compromised by component substitution or modification. This approval ensures a final product that is best-in-class in quality, presentation, and operations, both behind the scenes and out front.

Operations and Maintenance — Pumps, Pipes, Motors, Filters

Maintenance (both time and expense) must be factored into every engineering design and build. This effort must focus on ensuring each component and process is selected and implemented to minimize maintenance requirements. This allows the local store aquarist to focus on the health of the fish and the guest experience. It is critical that contractors and subs follow the design plans and avoid component substitutions and plan changes during the construction phase. Every deviation represents a potential impact to the maintenance and operation plan. Time spent maintaining equipment is time focused away from the habitat and guest experience. Designing, engineering, and building with operations and maintenance in mind is a best practice. The use of a specific type of component can make all the difference.

Durability — Tanks, Mechanicals

Durability means return on investment, or ROI. ROI begins with the design and engineering and continues through the construction phase and into start-up. The use and installation of the correct tank and supporting materials is paramount. Project managers must ensure tanks and mechanicals are installed as engineered. One best practice employed by Cloward H2O and Cabela’s is to ensure that the tank manufacturer, engineer, and client project manager coordinate throughout the project — especially when it comes to the tank. This ensures optimal tracking of pipe penetrations, tank supports, and elevations. It also ensures that the ideal guest viewing window location is chosen. Simply ordering a tank and installing it places the logistics and operation of a successful aquarium or habitat at risk and could potentially compromise the guest experience.

Bottom Line

As you bid that next project, keep the following list in mind. Make each of these points a priority and you will never go wrong:

• Owner / Client Priorities
• Visitor / Guest Experience
• Environment / Habitat Health
• Aquatic Life Health
• Cost-Effective Maintenance
• Sustainability
• Return on Investment

Cloward H2O has been privileged to work with Cabela’s on their aquatic life strategy and their world- class aquatics team. We invite you to stop in and visit a Cabela’s in your area. Cloward H2O would like to express its thanks and appreciation to the Cabela’s team and Cabela’s Chief Aquarist, Tim Huebner.

Tim Huebner can be emailed at timothy.huebner@cabelas.com

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