Jets and sprays are welcome additions to ponds because they look great. But if the designer or installer follows a few key guidelines outlined here by Roy Watkins, the list of benefits will expand to include an overall improvement in water quality and a healthier environment for fish.
By Roy Watkins
Whether in a modest backyard or as part of an estate-scale dreamscape, ponds are always a welcome addition – sometimes near the home as a key focal point from inside or out on the patio, other times tucked away in a secluded corner as a destination for quiet contemplation and relaxation at the water’s edge.
When fountains are added to these ponds, it can get even better: These features bring the sight and sound of moving water to complete and beautify the overall composition. And they do so while enhancing circulation within the pond and increasing oxygen levels to keep the water safe for fish, bacteria and other wildlife.
This is of particular interest with smaller, single-level ponds, where fountains lend depth, dimension and visual interest to the picture while augmenting circulation and aeration. As discussed below, however, they also aid larger or multi-level ponds by supplementing circulation and oxygenation where waterfalls, streams or weirs need some help with water-quality management.
But including any fountain within pond system is a serious step that requires some care and consideration: The designer or installer needs to make the right choice with respect to both technology and aesthetics for individual ponds – and for those ponds’ owners.
THE RIGHT STUFF
Selecting the correct fountain for a pond is complicated by the fact that there are so many options. To simplify the process, remember the following:
First, much like waterfalls, weirs and streams, fountains benefit ponds by creating agitation and stimulating increased water-to-air contact, thereby raising the water’s oxygen level and making it healthier for fish, beneficial aerobic bacteria and other aquatic creatures. To that end, there are two types of fountains: High-volume versions that are all about aeration, and high-pressure models where the emphasis is on visual display.
For ponds requiring aeration, a high-volume fountain is the correct choice: It will propel a large quantity of water into the air to enhance the transfer of oxygen into the plume and efficiently mix it into the body of water. High-pressure or display fountains, by contrast, don’t move nearly as much water into the air and so don’t increase oxygen levels in a way that significantly improves water quality.
Fortunately, there are approaches that bridge this gap between functionality and aesthetics, some through combined spray units that offers the benefits of high volume and high pressure in one package; and others through inclusion of a supplementary, subsurface aeration system along with a feature meant solely for display.
Second, beyond fountain type, designers and installers must also consider surface area, pond shape and water depth. As a basic rule, suppliers recommend a fountain that produces a pumping volume of 800 to 1,000 gallons per minute per each acre of water surface. (There’s some calculation involved in scaling these numbers down for smaller backyard ponds!)
Is the pond basically a circle, an oval or a rectangle? Or does it have some irregular shape? Round and oval-shaped ponds will provide better fluid movement throughout the vessel, while rectangular or irregular-shape ponds may require multiple fountain units to provide proper mixing and oxygen dispersion. How deep is the water where the fountain will be placed? Some units have minimum or maximum operating levels to consider.
Third – and with the above bits of information in place – it’s time to think about horsepower. This is particularly true with display fountains, where larger horsepower levels translate directly to larger displays. This factor eases the selection process for large ponds, but with smaller ponds (or in smaller coves of big ponds), it’s important to avoid selecting a combination of pump and nozzle that will spray water beyond a pond’s perimeter.
Finally, the designer or installer needs to weigh the availability of electrical service and where it is relative to the area of the pond in which the fountain will be placed. Pumps are available that will run on 115 or 230 volts and on single- or three-phase power, so knowing what’s available and where becomes a key issue in fountain selection.
With all of this information in hand, there’s one key choice to be made – that is, between an aerator, a fountain or a system that combines both functions. This, in other words, is where aesthetics come into play.
BREAKING THE SURFACE
Once the designer or installer figures out what’s needed, it’s time to consider how things will look.
Some basic aerating units sit at the bottom of the pond, drawing in surrounding water and atmospheric air to aid in general circulation and release thousands of micro-bubbles to oxygenate the water. Other aerators and fountains float on the surface, anchored so they stay in one place. These units create an induced flow that promotes circulation and destratifies the water column below and around them.
No matter the approach, all fountains used in pond applications should be energy efficient and eco-friendly as well as safe, with control systems that include time clocks and ground-fault circuit interrupters as well as intakes set up in such a way that they don’t present a suction hazard to fish and other wildlife.
Now it’s time to think about spray patterns – the area where fountain selection takes time because there are so many possibilities to consider. And that’s particularly true in ponds where fountain aeration is a secondary consideration and beauty or performance can be the focus.
Some systems will pump up to 1,400 gallons of water per minute into the air, reaching heights of seven to ten feet in diameters spanning 25 to 35 feet. Others move more or less water at heights and diameters ranging from several inches to dozens of feet. As established above, the level of the display depends on what the pond needs; but here, there’s also a heavy emphasis on what the client wants.
This brings us back to points raised at the start of this article: The designer or installer must step back and consider how the pond and its fountain will look from multiple perspectives. If it’s close to the house or an outdoor seating area, something modest may fill the bill and will make the pond’s owners happy by looking great while being tame enough that quiet conversations are still possible. If the pond is removed from the house, making its presence known and attractive might involve a more dramatic display – but again, something appropriate to the pond’s size.
One more factor: The designer or installer needs to be aware of prevailing winds and adjust selections accordingly with the goal of keeping the water spray within the confines of the watershape. To that end, it can be a good idea in some installations to include an anemometer that will shut the system down if the breezes surpass a predetermined velocity.
While a project is still in the planning phase, it’s important to include lighting in the grand scheme of things. We all know that people lead busy lives that often keep them away from home during daylight hours. For these clients in particular, figuring out how best to illuminate a pond and its fountain is a distinct requirement.
Adding lights to just about any fountain will make it more attractive and elegant. Many fountain kits include white or multi-color lighting systems or the option of adding them. The sprays can either be uplit from the nozzle bases or illuminated from outside by lights placed around the pond or in the water. Any approach will add a welcoming glow to the setting once the sun goes down.
In developing a lighting plan, the designer or installer should evaluate nearby, competing light sources and how they will affect the pond lighting’s performance. It may be necessary to work with colored lenses to make the desired impression, although there’s much to be said for the classiness of bright-white lighting if the circumstances favor it.
Hours of operation should be factored into these decisions, too. Some lights run on timers, others on photocells that turn the lights on only after the sun has set and only when the fountain is running. Maintenance is an issue as well: Photocells must be cleaned periodically, as should lamp lenses and color filters – small but important tasks.
It’s also a good idea to set lights and fountains up for easy removal in cold-climate areas: They can be damaged through a long winter – although some aerating systems can stay in place because they can be used as de-icers.
As this article relates, adding a fountain to any pond – and particularly to a pond in which circulation and oxygenation are issues – can spell the difference between healthy and oxygen-deprived water. Selecting the right fountain for the job might seem complicated, but it’s actually pretty straightforward if the designer or installer keeps surface area, pond shape and water depth in mind. It also helps, each and every time, to look at the project through the eyes of a client who wants maximum enjoyment with minimum worry.
Roy Watkins is chief executive officer at Air-O-Lator Corp., a manufacturer of aerators and fountain equipment based in Grandview, Mo. For more information, visit the company’s website: airolator.com.