Less is More: Turning an eyesore into a sight for sore eyes

A waterfall in need of repair. 
A waterfall in need of repair. 

The day was April 1, 2013. The phone rang, and the nice woman on the line began to explain her predicament. “My husband and I have a problem,” she said. “We have this waterfall on our property that is in need of some repair.”

Being that this was the beginning of the busiest part of our season, this was not the call I was hoping for. With about 80 pond cleanouts and a couple of new installations on the schedule — all from clients who wanted to get their ponds cleaned and running ASAP — I thought to myself, “How can I possibly take on a repair job with all of these customers, whom I have been servicing for several years, waiting?”

However, it is my nature to accommodate. So we talked a bit, I got all the necessary information, and we scheduled an appointment to see what kind of “repair” was needed.

When I arrived at the residence for the first time a week or so later, I was truly amazed. The property was located at the end of the street with a private drive that led down to the backyard. “Oh my God,” I thought to myself. “This yard is huge! You could fit a football field back here!”

Looking out over the yard from the raised deck about 300 feet away, I saw the prospective project and again thought, “Oh my God!” There was a dilapidated, atrocious-looking old structure, about 100 feet long and 15 feet wide with about a 10-foot rise in elevation. As we began to walk down from the deck, only one thought crossed my mind: “What am I getting into here?”

The homeowners, Bob and Monica, explained to me that the area of the yard to the left of the old waterfall (where I was imagining a football field) was once a retention pond. The existing waterfall was supposed to have been a bog filter for the pond, but according to the customer, it never worked the way the contractor (who built it in 1993) said it would. Furthermore, the pond itself was somewhat of a hazard to the neighborhood children, who used the yard to cut through to a nearby park. So they decided to fill it in before anyone drowned in it or fell through the ice during the winter months. So now they were left with the old, dilapidated structure with about 40 tons of Aqua Blue Boulders — and no aqua to run it.

Xavier and Jeff clean up the reservoir in preparation for liner. 
Xavier and Jeff clean up the reservoir in preparation for liner. 
Excavated stream and waterfall ready for liner and stone.
Excavated stream and waterfall ready for liner and stone.

After contemplating this somewhat complex situation for a few moments, I told them that I could not repair it. However, I could tear it out and rebuild it completely into a “Pondless Waterfall.” In this setup, an underground water reservoir would be built to hold the water that would feed the waterfall.

“A pondless waterfall?” the home- owner asked. “With an underground storage tank? That would be great! No more fish to take care of. No more filtering murky water. No more safety issues. No more maintenance. No more work!”
With a smile slowly growing on his face, he said, “I like this idea.”

Well, I liked this idea too — as would any pond builder! When you see a hill- side that is just screaming “Waterfall!” at you, your artistic juices start flowing, your mouth starts watering and you begin to envision what you can do with this space. It becomes very exciting, to say the least.

So I left with everything I needed to know. After thinking for a day or so about what I needed to do, I put together my proposal. After a couple rounds of negotiating, we had a contract for a completely new “Pondless Waterfall” with multiple cascades streaming down a 70-foot-long stream into an 1,800-gallon water reservoir.

The Project Begins

As the new season progressed, all of the cleanouts and previously sold installations were completed. Soon enough, it was finally showtime.


A couple of days before the excavation began, I sent out a crew to take apart the old structure. Once all of the stone and old liner was removed, we began with the water reservoir. Using a backhoe, we excavated a basin approximately eight feet wide, 12 feet long and seven feet deep. (All of the excavated soil was used to create a berm along the hillside to deter the runoff water — which would other- wise flood the area — down to the storm drain at the lower end.) Taking advantage of having the backhoe onsite, we also used it to carve out our new cascades and stream leading to the reservoir. At the end of Day 1, I could not have been happier with the progress.


The next day we returned to finish the water reservoir. After pouring four inches of sand into the bottom of our 7-foot-deep hole, we installed our geotextile underlayment, 45 mil EPDM liner, another layer of geotextile underlayment, 50 32-gallon water matrix blocks and our pondless waterfall vault, which would later house the two 6,900 gallon-per-hour pumps. More sand was then used to back- fill behind the liner in order to snug up the Aquablocks and protect the liner. The basin was then filled with a layer of six- to eight-inch granite boulders, followed by three or four tons of Red Flint gravel.

Our next step was to grade the stream and waterfall area and then put down the liner and underlayment. All was going as smooth as a well-oiled machine to this point … and then the rains came. We had about a two-and-a-half-inch rainfall in a two-hour span, followed by steady drizzle the rest of the day. When we returned the following day, our 70-foot-long stream was a great big mud hole. Rather than trying to work in ankle-deep mud, we decided to call it an early weekend.

The weekend was dry and the sun was shining, so we were all set to get back at it on Monday morning — but guess what? More rain, which meant a couple more days of drying out. Well, eventually the weather gave us a break and we were able to start building our waterfalls. We used every bit of the 40 tons of Aqua Blue stone that was already onsite, plus another 12 tons of 18- to 24-inch granite boulders to add some color and eight tons of weathered lime- stone accent boulders, ranging in size from about 1,000 to 2,500 pounds. 10 tons of Red Flint gravel was then used to cover the rest of the stream, and also spread between the boulders to help lock them into place. A couple of logs here and some driftwood there gave our already awesome-looking waterfalls an even more natural look.
pond_const_Greissimer2
Once this was all complete, we trenched for the plumbing and connected the pumps. By properly positioning a couple of Aquascape Waterfall Spillways, we were able to build our very top cascade to about six feet wide. Two more spillways were used a bit further downstream on opposite sides of the stream and at different heights, creating a spectacular mountainside look. The next cascade narrowed down to about three and a half feet to churn up the water and create a whitewater effect. The next segment traveled between a few large boulders before dropping about two feet to the next level. This was followed by the stream widening out to slow down the water and create a lazy river effect, before tightening up again at the bottom for the dramatic spill into the reservoir at the very bottom.

A couple truckloads of topsoil were brought in to do our edge treatments and top off the area around our construction site. Our job was complete. No more filtering murky water. No more safety issues. No more maintenance. And no more work for the homeowners. Two more ecstatic customers and a very proud construction crew!

The finished project, 1 month later.
The finished project, 1 month later.

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  1. Video | Watch how a pondless stream is built...quickly - POND Trade Magazine - February 10, 2015

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