Backyard ponds have become an exciting landscaping trend! Most homeowners want a pond to add ambiance to their yard or to simply enhance their outdoor living space. Their goals range from fish collecting to plant collecting to simply wanting to enjoy the sight and sound of water. Ponds create a respite from the techno-crazy world and a haven for prized Koi and local wildlife. Yet few realize the countless environmental benefits of installing an ecosystem pond or water feature.
According to the National Gardening Association’s 2008 Environmental Lawn and Garden Survey, 9 out of 10 households believe it’s important to maintain their landscape in a way that benefits the environment. However, only about half of those are knowledgeable about how to maintain lawns and gardens in an environmentally-friendly way. Lots of homeowners hire a service to care for their landscape, and as long as it looks good, they don't really pay attention to what chemicals are being used, etc. Those that maintain their own, tend to run to the big-box store, buy chemicals, don't really read the instructions, and use way more than what is truly necessary. Many people don’t realize that by replacing some (or all) of their lawn with a pond or water feature, they can conserve water and energy, save money, and support the environment – not to mention reduce personal stress.
Lawns use A LOT of water
According to the University of Arizona, the average 15'x15' bermudagrass lawn uses over 5,000 gallons of water per year. A typical residential lawn sprinkler system broadcasts about 10–18 gallons per minute, per valve or zone. By the way, broadcasting water like that increases evaporation and the lawn doesn’t really receive as much water as is being broadcast.
So, if a lawn has two zones and runs for 15 minutes each three times per week, the water consumption would range between 4,500 and 7,560 gallons per month. In Phoenix, that would equate to about $175 to $275 per month on your water bill. Yikes!
PONDS USE LESS WATER THAN A LAWN
Evaporation on a pond is the same as on a swimming pool: 1” per day per square footage of surface area during the hottest, driest months of the year (typically mid-May through mid-June). During the rest of the year, the evaporation is negligible. AND you’re not adding water during monsoon storms and general rain days. Unless you have one of those expensive timers that detects the moisture in the air and doesn’t water when it’s raining, your lawn gets watered no matter what. A pond will have an autofill device that only adds water when it’s needed.
Lawns GENERALLY require more maintenance than ponds
Maintaining a lush lawn obviously requires regular watering, as pointed out above. But there’s also a LOT more that goes into maintaining a nice-looking lawn, right? You also have to fertilize it. When not done properly, runoff of excess fertilizer causes groundwater pollution. The EPA estimates that only 35 percent of lawn fertilizers applied ever reach the grass plant – the remainder ends up in our air or seeps into our water supply. During a typical year in neighborhoods across the country, over 102 million pounds of toxic pesticides are reportedly applied in pursuit of that perfect lawn and garden, says the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns. Is your “little patch of estate” worth that?
You have to mow and edge it, enslaving the average man (or woman) for at least half a day on any given weekend. Aside from the time involved, about 54 million Americans mow their lawns each weekend, using 800 million gallons of gas per year, AND producing tons of air pollutants, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Garden equipment engines emit high levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxides, producing up to 5% of the nation’s air pollution (and a good deal more in metropolitan areas). A traditional gas-powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new cars, each being driven 12,000 miles. Lastly, more than 17 million gallons of gas are spilled each year refueling lawn and garden equipment. To put that into perspective, that’s more than the amount of oil that was spilled by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska. And this all adds to groundwater contamination and smog, the EPA reports.
And then there's the noise pollution. The sounds of lawn mowers and edgers are NOT soothing. They are an irritant to anyone within range.
PONDS ADD TO THE AMBIENCE AND REDUCE STRESS
Ponds, however, reduce the need for lawn pesticides and fertilizers. They require about 10 minutes of maintenance per week, and pay you back with hours of enjoyment. And they certainly don’t require any gas-powered equipment. As an added benefit, the debris and sludge collected by your pond filter can be used as a nutrient-rich fertilizer for your lawn, garden, and/or trees.
And as to sound, who wouldn't rather listen to a waterfall or babbling brook rather than mowers & blowers?
Now, if you have a bunch of kids that need a football or soccer field to play on, then by all means, plant a lawn! Or you could make use of a nearby park and let the City deal with the time and cost of the maintenance. But if you’re looking for a low water use, low maintenance, super enjoyable, and entertaining landscape option, you might want to consider an ecosystem pond or water feature.
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Thirsty for Survival
Water is Arizona wildlife’s most important resource, and it’s vital for more than just quenching thirst. Fish and frogs live in or near water their whole lives. Birds use water to keep their feathers clean and free of parasites, bees use water to cool their hives, and larger animals use water to cool down their bodies.
Arizona is in a cycle of long-term drought, which means there’s less available water for animals and a bigger fight for their survival. Urban sprawl has taken out many natural wetlands and catchment areas that our wildlife used to be able to depend on. As temperatures here rise, their search for water becomes even more crucial.
Arizona Wildlife Needs Our Help
Arizona Game & Fish Department and their partners use trucks and helicopters to haul water to remote sites and keep 3,000 catchments full. These partners are mostly individuals volunteering. You can help them out by donating at SendWater.org, or volunteering your time.
Pond Owners Are Already Helping Arizona Wildlife!
As a pond or water feature owner, you are already helping! Keeping organic clean water in your yard invites our native feathered friends and the visiting migratory birds to quench their thirst and bathe. If you live in a neighborhood with a NAOS area, the wildlife living within counts on your water feature to survive alongside our human-built habitats. Bees count on your water feature to gather water to take back to cool the hive, ensuring their survival (and we all know how important they are!).
By having an ecosystem water feature, you are actually helping to replace our disappearing wetlands. You’re one of the good guys!
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Save the (fill in the blank)!
Saving natural habitats is hot on everyone’s mind these days. Riparian habitats are the rarest type of habitat in North America. The plants and micro-organisms found in riparian areas and natural wetlands are extremely efficient at removing excess nutrients from storm water and runoff. Unfortunately, man’s increased use of commercial fertilizers creates run-off extremely high in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which poses a major threat to the delicate ecosystems of our natural waterways. As a result of this, as well as excess traffic and use, 95% of the West’s best filtering habitats have been degraded to at least some extent.
Phoenix Ponds with Wetlands Replenish Disappearing Natural Wetlands
What exactly makes a wetland such a good filter, even for a backyard pond? Wetlands are giant sponges. They protect ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, and aquifers by filtering out wastes and nutrients entering from storm water and runoff. Scientific studies have found that many common species of aquatic plants have the ability to uptake toxins directly from the water, thus scrubbing it clean again. This can even be accomplished in a backyard pond!
Thinking of aquatic plants as the kidneys of the earth, it follows then that a constructed wetland filter would be an excellent approach to cleaning up an existing problem pond, as well as an outstanding way ensure that a backyard pond has plenty of filtration from the start, while providing a lush, beautiful setting.
Wetlands are Nature's Filter
Clarity is one of the easiest and fastest ways to diagnose water quality in a backyard pond. Large loads of sediment and debris can have a serious impact on the aquatic life that a body of water can support. Wetlands, both in nature and constructed for backyard pond filtration, do a tremendous job of reducing sediment and debris, improving clarity within the pond. Natural wetlands are able to remove sediment by slowing the velocity of storm water, causing the sediment and debris to drop out of suspension. To see this concept in action, visit Regents of Scottsdale Apartment Complex, 15555 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Parkway, Scottsdale, Arizona. This riparian ecosystem that spans the center of the complex accepts runoff from the surrounding parking lots. Over the past six years of this system’s existence, the maintenance required has been quarterly bacteria and enzyme applications, along with monthly thinning of aquatic plants from within the streams
Phoenix Ponds Thrive with Wetlands!
A constructed wetland filter of proportionate size can help provide crystal clear water in almost any backyard pond. We’ve all seen the chemically treated, generally blue-dyed, bodies of water that adorn many golf courses, apartment complexes, and HOA common areas. Furthermore, backyard ponds with a lot of large fish require a filtration system sufficient to keep up with the wastes these fish produce.
On another note, many people have “green thumbs” and are attracted to the types of plants that can be grown in a backyard pond. Installing a wetland filter off to the side of a backyard pond will provide the perfect planting bed for a variety of aquatic plants, while allowing the garden owner to keep the pond surface area open for viewing.
Wildlife Appreciates Phoenix Ecosystem Ponds
In addition to being a superb filter system, placed appropriately, the permanent and accessible organic water in a backyard pond is a boon to birds, both native and migratory. 80% of desert wildlife lives within sight of a riparian corridor. However, we have been damming and pumping our riparian areas out of existence here in Arizona. Constructed wetlands, and organically maintained backyard ponds, may be the best bet for the survival of many species of native and migratory bird life. In terms of economics, Arizona is a top ten birding destination on every birder’s list, and birding is a $2.5 billion a year tourism industry. Arizona’s share of this money in is huge! Adding a constructed wetland filter to a backyard pond not only adds a truly “green” element in every sense of the word, but provides a safe oasis to native and migratory birds, whether in the open desert, on a golf course, or in someone’s back yard.
Technical information for this article supplied by our friend and colleague, Bernie Kerkvliet of Skyland Ponds in Lake Arrowhead, California.
What is a Wetland?
Ecologically speaking, it is known as an Ecotone. An Ecotone is a transition zone between two diverse communities. It contains organisms native to each overlapping community, as well as organisms characteristic to the Ecotone itself.
In a wetland, life is very dense and variable. Every ounce of water from a wetland environment contains millions of organisms that make up a highly diverse community.
The Plantonic community includes algae or phytoplankton, zooplankton, and bacteria. Together, they are the plants, animals, and scavengers of this unique, aquatic ecosystem. The scavenger-like plantonic bacteria, along with fungi, clean up the corpses, wastes, and organic debris present in the water. The algae transforms sunshine and inorganic nutrients present in the water into food so it can grow and reproduce. In a nutshell, the bacteria, fungi, and phytoplankton all feed on impurities in the water and clean it as it flows thru the wetland. These are the base consumers of the ecosystem, or the base of the food chain. The amazing thing is the phytoplankton and bacteria can produce another generation in a matter of hours to days. Pretty cool, huh?
Simply put, the phytoplankton represents the grass and herbaceous plants in a meadow. The zooplankton which are protozoans, rotifers, and tiny crustaceans are the animals that feed on the plants in the meadow (Phytoplankton).
This basis for the food chain in turn provides food for insects, fish fry, larvae, etc. Aquatic plants also get their nutrients from the water and decomposing sediment in the wetland. The food chain continues to grow to include larger fish, frogs, reptiles, and eventually mammals and birds.
What do Wetlands Do?
Wetlands are also good for slowing the water down. In a constructed wetland, we accomplish this by the size of pump supplying the wetland. Slowing the water down allows for sediment to settle out. In nature, after hundreds, or even thousands, of years, sedimentation continues until a meadow is formed. The sedimentation process prevents soil from washing downstream. Since the water is almost stationary, it allows water to percolate down into the water table.
In a constructed wetland, the nutrient rich sediments are periodically pumped out on to the surrounding landscape.
The sedimentation process in both cases produces water clarity.
Wetlands, whether natural or man-made, are the most effective water purification systems on earth.
Where do Wetlands Come From?
Wetlands can be created in many ways. They can be built by rivers in slow moving waters and deltas that create wetlands. Lakes and landlocked basins can develop into wetlands, as well.
Aquascape has developed a very effective arificial wetland system that is very effective. Whenever water filtration is required, we prefer to use a constructed wetland if possible. This does require a bit of extra room on the property, but the results are well worth it – and it’s pretty!
One of the best ways nature has for building wetlands, man has destroyed in multiple ways. The best natural builder of wetlands is the beaver. All the industrious work the beaver has done in the northern hemisphere, man has slowly destroyed all in the name of two things: a hat and “progress. “ We hesitate to go too far into the history of the fur trade and beaver felt hats that became so popular in Europe, but the fact is that’s what started it all. But let’s fast forward to a little more current time in North America.
The total land area in the contiguous United States is 2.96 million square miles. It is estimated that there were some 200 million beavers in the US at the time white man came from Europe. It is also estimated that there were about 300,000 square miles of beaver ponds at that time. Can you imagine the benefits that brought to the land? Better plant and animal biodiversity, slow moving water meant better water percolation and recharge in the water table, flood control, clear unpolluted water -- and those are just some of the macro benefits.
What Can I Do AS JUST A HOMEOWNER?
In the pursuit of fur, hats, farmland, industry, and “progress,” our land is not what it used to be. That is why the work that we do is so important. Each pond, pondless, patio pond, fountainscape, stream, and waterfall we build creates another little island of biodiversity in our individual private back yards.
The bonus is that it also creates ambiance to help us decompress, to bring us back to nature after being “plugged in” all day, to teach our children about the nature world, and to use this natural world to teach a multitude of other subjects from biology to math to art to music, and beyond. And then there’s just the pure enjoyment of a backyard oasis – something that takes minutes per week to maintain, but provides hours upon hours of simple pleasure.
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Curl up with a Good Brook!
Who doesn't love to hang out next to a babbling brook? It's such a soothing and relaxing sound! Sometimes, a waterfall is just too much sound if you have a quiet little yard. And maybe you don't want a pond for whatever reason. A re-circulating disappearing pondless stream is a great landscape idea!
Backyard Design Ideas for Streams
Streams are SO versatile! Here is just a small list of benefits to landscape ideas for streams to "wet" your appetite:
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For more great backyard landscape ideas, check out our friends at Planted Well!