The pond was just one piece of the overall community meditation garden project. It also included a large expanse of lawn, and a couple of nice bench seats. Its purpose was to provide the members of the community with a place to enjoy peaceful moments brought about by the sounds of birds and the ambience of moving water.
A committee was formed and proposals for the project were solicited. As happens so often in these situations, the best looking proposal, won the project. The tragedy starts here, because not a single committee member took the time for due diligence. They didn’t bother to visit previous pond projects installed by any of the bidding contractors. And they greatly underestimated the importance of a well-designed and built pond. They also underestimated the impact the pond would have on the overall project, being a focal point in the garden. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent.
And the pond did have the largest, most dramatic impact on the entire project. The pond is what brought people to the park. The pond is what garnered the praise. The pond is what drew the lovely birds, dragonflies, and damselflies, along with bunnies, ducks, and quail. Until some time into the second year.
During the second year of its existence, design flaws and performance issues reared their ugly heads. The pond’s design flaws were, quite literally, set in cement, making any modifications difficult, expensive, and dismal failures. The entire project, its intent to draw the community together, became a lot less attractive to the members over time.
Fast forward seven years (and four ill-fated contractors) later. The committee invited The Pond Gnome to see what it could do to help with their pond. We recommended a complete rebuild because of the myriad of issues. The committee rejected that option, as they felt their sizable investment should be saved. We agreed to attempt some kind of help.
The first objective was to mitigate the huge amount of leaking. The pond was losing around 400 gallons of water a day, significantly driving up the community’s water bill, not to mention undermining the concrete structure of the pond. Thousands of dollars were spent cleaning and inspecting the concrete, filling cracks and voids as best as possible, and coating surfaces with a pool sealer. The leaking was reduced to less than 100 gallons a day. Better, but still bad. In the overall scheme, that amount meant little to a property owners association that is keeping over 10 acres of lawn green.
The Next objective was to naturalize the look of the pond. We brought in a mix of rock, ranging from 16” to ¾” and used it to conceal the ugly concrete edges and to create planting pockets. Emergent aquatic plants and water lilies were introduced. Gambusia affinis for vector control were added. Goldfish were added to entertain the kids and attract fishing birds.
After a season of growth, the pond looked good -- for a concrete structure! It’s amazing what Mother Nature can do with well-placed rocks and plant life. Even the protected Lowland Leopard Frog showed up and thrived in the habitat that was created. The pond had created awesome bird-watching opportunities. A pair of ducks have spent the last three winters there raising a few ducklings each year. The members of the community had again taken an interest in enjoying the garden.
Unfortunately, as was predicted, the concrete sealing attempt only lasted one season before leak issues started to again grow in severity. Despite the beauty it adds, the nature habitat it has become, and the popularity with the neighborhood, the committee is now soliciting bids to remove the pond and replace it with a dry creek bed. They say that they have no money to replace it, and the leak has become a serious problem that is worsening by the day. It’s a sad day for the local residents – and the wildlife that has been calling this desert oasis home for several years now.
This story plays out all too often here in the Valley. There are variations in the multitude of failures, but the lesson is always the same and should be clear: pond design and construction is a skill that requires training and experience. This is why so many pond and water feature specialty companies are starting to thrive around the country.
Creating a low-maintenance pond that looks so real that even the wildlife can’t tell the difference is an art. Building that water feature so that it’s easy to maintain, will last for decades, and is completely serviceable and sustainable requires training and experience.
As a professional in the pond and water feature industry, we want your pond to be beautiful and sustainable, regardless of who builds it. Great ponds grow our overall industry and opportunities. Poorly designed and constructed ponds damage it severely.
This is a cautionary tale for those that think a pond is just a hole full of water. Don’t buy a pond on impulse. Be a smart shopper! You wouldn’t invest in a car without test-driving it, would you?
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