When it rains, it pours, and this commercial project we had taken on seemed determined to present us with a deluge of challenges. In the pond and water feature business, we are used to being surprised on the jobsite, usually by buried objects—stumps, concrete, cables. Heck, one of my guys actually broke the gas pipe to the house once while the customer’s wife was preparing for a dinner party! She was not a happy camper at the time, but we got some great pictures of the fire truck rolling up, lights ablaze and sirens screaming. Ahhh, memories. We’re all used to dealing with challenges specific to our industry and there’s a great feeling of accomplishment that comes with overcoming unexpected challenges. Our feeling of accomplishment was to be well-deserved after this job.
[img:1]It was early in 2012 and we had already sold a couple of pretty decent and unique back yard installations smack dab in the middle of our clean-out season. We were a smaller company who hadn’t geared up for spring yet. We had an ad in the paper, but at the time there were just two of us—my Foreman, Juan, and myself. We were lucky enough to find a new prospect to help us with the first installation. We got the bog filter and pond excavated and were rocking the pond fast. They were loading the Dingo with rocks and bringing them to me in the back yard. I was trying to use all the rocks each time before they brought the next load. We were really moving fast and I was getting excited about our new prospect when suddenly a stone fell and smashed my index fingertip open! Stitches and nerve damage to boot. This really slowed us down.
We weren’t finished with this project when I got a call from Chris Wilson at Aquascape Inc. “Matt, there’s a two-million-dollar golf facility being built in Austin right now and they’ve decided at the last minute to install a water feature on their putting green,” he said. “It has to be done fast because they’re trying to open in a few weeks.” They had specified that they wanted a Certified Aquascape Contractor to do the installation, he explained, and we were the closest one. Within a few hours, I had received the drawings for the area and it specified pretty precisely where the pondless waterfall and stream would be located and how it was to be shaped. We couldn’t make changes because it had to have the putting green around it and the design for that was already set in stone. The next day, I was onsite taking measurements and was able to put a bid together.
Friday afternoon the project was approved and we were to start the following Monday morning. We had exactly one week to finish and be out of the way because the guys were coming from Chicago on Sunday to begin installing the putting green the following Monday. That gave us about no time to get materials together. Fortunately I had kept Ewing, my local Aquascape supplier, abreast of what was happening and they made sure all the components I would need were brought in. My local stone supplier was able to get a delivery scheduled just in time as well. The clock was ticking, but everything was going perfectly so far. Maybe that should have been a warning sign.
I have the mini excavator on reserve to pick up first thing Monday morning. The jobsite is less than two miles away from the equipment place. Perfect! I love it when a plan comes together. The prospect from the last pond had quit and I couldn’t use one hand, so this one was on Juan. No problem—plenty of time and everything is well-coordinated. Except the excavator wouldn’t start. And they wouldn’t let me jump it off with cables. They said that they had one at their next closest location, almost an hour away. So we went there, but the machine they had was smaller than what we wanted. They called their next closest location, almost another hour away to make sure they had a larger one and that it would start, and we headed out again. By the time we got there, their computers had gone down and they couldn’t rent anything out at all. My head’s about to explode as we return to the second location to get the smaller machine and head to the jobsite.
We got to the jobsite after lunchtime, ready to dig. The area was carefully measured and marked. We had to dig in a very specific area for the underground reservoir that the water would be held in. Finally, we were going to start doing what we do! After about five minutes of digging, we found that large water pipes that feed the building and a nearby fire hydrant were lying directly in the area we were to work in. The construction foreman told us that there would be no more digging today as they decided how they were going to move the pipes. An hour or so later, as we were pulling in to the parking lot to return the excavator, they called us back and said that they had a new plan. So we turned around and headed back.
The new plan was even more adventurous. We would have to move the underground reservoir and create a stream to avoid underground obstacles. No problem. But there was a twist. We were now in the very bottom of a bowl-shaped area right next to the master drain for that entire area. We were going to have to configure the basin for our pondless waterfall to be able to allow rainwater from the surrounding putting green to pass through the basin and out to the drain via a hidden pipe. We installed a bulkhead fitting through the liner which we were able to move up or down till we got it to the right spot according to the laser. The main foreman was breathing down my neck the whole time we were doing this because he know it would be disastrous if the drainage didn’t work right. But when he saw that we knew what we were doing, he relaxed.
Once the AquaBlox matrix was assembled and installed, we were ready to start the rock work. We used the Dingo to bring a bunch of rocks down the hill into the bowl so we would have plenty to choose from. The next morning when we arrived, they were miraculously moved back up to the sidewalk at the top of the hill. Turns out the landscaper guys were going to be spreading concrete tailings, wetting them down, and compacting them in the area completely surrounding us for the next couple of days. So for each individual rock, we would have to walk up the hill, pick out the rock we wanted, and bring it down the hill with the dolly. Another crew was digging trenches for electrical lines, effectively cutting us off from our stone. The clock was ticking.
When the concrete had dried and we were able to return to the job, the pressure was on from the higher-ups. They looked at half a week’s work and saw very little progress. I was looking at a project that was coming along nicely. The biggest rocks had already been set, the main waterfall was built, there was only a stream to go. But now the landscapers were back to spread decomposed granite on top of the concrete they had laid and once again our progress was being slowed. We had two days to go and there was quite a bit to do yet. That night it rained several inches. When we got to the jobsite Saturday, the entire basin was full of muddy water. But that was all. There was no water standing around anywhere else. Our drainage from the basin had worked like a charm. Great! We made the boss man smile! He was still worried that we wouldn’t finish on time, though.
By the end of the day Saturday, though, we were able to turn it on so we could adjust it and check for leaks. There was still no power to the area, so we had to go buy 200 feet of extension cord to power the 10,000 gph pump. The basin was full of muddy water, but since the water to the property hadn’t been turned on yet, we had to keep it. And we had all of Sunday to finish the details, hook up lights, and seal the rest of the feature in concrete.
Sunday, the sun shone brightly for the first time since the first day of this project. We plugged in the muddy waterfall in the morning so we could enjoy the sight and sound of it and make small adjustments during the day. We spent the day spreading decomposed granite, mixing it with cement, and compacting the edges of the water feature with a vibrating plate. Details always take more time than I think they will, but they matter so much. Before we had finished on Sunday, the guys from Chicago had showed up to get a peek at where they would be working. We had finished just in time. Not bad for only two guys. What a great sense of accomplishment!
Matt Boring is owner and operator of Texas Ponds and Water Features, LLC, based just outside of Austin, Texas. Texas Ponds and Water Features is a Certified Aquascape Contractor