The web site for all professionals and consumers who've made or want to make water a part of their lives

5-yrsBy Bruce Zaretsky

‘For years,’ wrote Bruce Zaretsky to open his On the Level column in the January 2011 edition, WaterShapes ‘has celebrated the beauty, majesty and positive potential of water in the landscape.  We’ve seen it flowing down waterfalls, over vanishing edges, across slopes and through the air.  We’ve seen what happens to colors immersed in it, how it creates shimmering light patterns, how it works its way over stone and, perhaps most important, the joy it can bring.’  

‘Its potential to entertain and sustain us is indeed vast, but for all of its glories, water can also be inglorious as well – as when rivers overflow their banks, rainfall collapses roofs or tsunamis inundate coastlines.  So while we in the watershaping world are justified in revering water, we also need to be conscious of its property-damaging potential as we proclaim its multiple benefits.’  He continued:


‘The simple fact is that water can be destructive, which means we always must do all we can to stem its capacity to do harm and mitigate the risks that come along with it.  This is why we grade the land to keep surface water from running into basements or pools or play areas.  This is why we drain the backs of retaining walls and do all we can to avoid the consequences of hydrostatic pressure and freeze/thaw heaving.’  


‘I, for one, constantly think about water in designing my projects, whether it has to do with a grading plan, a water-capturing system or a decorative waterfeature.  To work any other way, I believe, is to court disaster.  All too often, however, I see projects where basic hydrological concerns have been ignored.’


‘Just this past summer, in fact, I worked on three consecutive projects . . . where we needed to assess a water problem, figure out a means of resolving it, repair the damage it had caused and then build what had been removed all over again.  In all cases, these situations were entirely avoidable.  In one instance, just six bucks’ worth of aluminum flashing would have saved a homeowner the considerable cost of repairing a set of steps as well as part of the house.’


‘In my business, I will tell any prospective client that we won’t work around a newly built home unless I have backfilled the area myself (tamping in lifts) or have placed water-soaker hoses on the area and let them run about an hour a day for three weeks.  The second option is not generally recommended unless the client is certain the exterior of the wall has been adequately waterproofed (not too often the case); as an alternative, we often wait until the house has gone through a good freeze/thaw cycle before sizing up the situation.’  


‘Knowing that water can be a vicious invader, I want to keep it where it belongs.  This is doubtless why my crews call me the King of Silicone:  I want every hole, every nail, every seam to be protected.’


‘As I mentioned at the outset, water is a wonderful design medium, which is why just about every project I do involves decorative water in some form.  But experience shows me that water also participates in my projects as a potential menace.’


‘[This] is why I look at everything I do and consider how I can assure my clients that five, ten and even 15 years down the road I will not be leaving them with any problems that might reasonably be anticipated.’  

‘The thing that gets me about so many of these issues,’ Bruce concluded, ‘is that getting things right the first time through is simple and generally inexpensive – particularly when the alternative is the failure of the project and costly repairs!’

In your own business, do you treat water as the sort of two-edged sword Bruce perceives and guards against?  Has its negative potential prevented you from trying certain approaches to watershape or landscape design?  Or is this a phenomenon that’s so familiar you take all of the risks in stride?  Please share your experiences with water’s dark side by commenting below!  


Bruce Zaretsky is president of Zaretsky and Associates, a landscape design/construction/consultation company in Rochester, N.Y.  Nationally recognized for creative and inspiring residential landscapes, he also works with healthcare facilities, nursing homes and local municipalities in conceiving and installing healing and meditation gardens.  You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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