‘I’ve expended lots of ink,’ wrote Bruce Zaretsky in opening his On the Level column in WaterShapes’ June 2010 edition, ‘extolling the virtues of good water management. . . . And this all makes sense, given both the needs of our society and the fact that we who read and write for WaterShapes all derive some portion of our livings from the work we do with water.
‘On those levels and more, water may be seen as our enduring friend. I must add, however, that water also has a distinctly dark side and can turn on us when we least expect it, becoming unwieldy, unruly and occasionally devastating. This is why, in speaking with clients, I always make the point that water must be watched carefully because it can turn the tables on us in the twinkling of an eye.’ He continued:
‘You don’t have to think too hard to come up with instances in which the presence of water is a bad thing. Take a situation in which so much rain falls so quickly that drainage swales and storm sewers can’t handle the resulting flow. . . . In this context, our ability to control water and bathe its dark side in bright light is paramount to our projects’ long-term viability and client satisfaction.’
‘While employed by a large landscape firm early in my career, . . . I spent two years doing almost nothing beyond resolving water problems our company’s work had caused on project sites. . . . What I observed through the bulk of these incidents was that they mostly stemmed either from improper grading – that is, there wasn’t enough pitch to allow the water to drain away – or from construction or insertion of obstacles to drainage without making any allowance for the removal of the water they effectively trapped.’
‘Truth be told, in almost all such cases the solutions are simple. In virtually every case, in fact, the use of a French drain will solve the problem. This is why I’ve installed these drains as my fail-safe solution for drainage issues for the past three decades: They’re easy to install, require use of no large equipment (depending, of course, on the site) and can carry significant amounts of water.’
‘With larger-scale challenges, we’ll . . . use multiple pipes. We’ve even set up multiple trenches, placing them in parallel a set distance apart from each other to layer the approach. In all cases, our goal is to displace the surface water, move it below grade and keep it out of sight and out of harm’s way.’
‘The key in all cases is to give water a path of least resistance – and get it out of there before it can do any damage!’
‘We’ve successfully used French drains to completely dry out properties, to keep water from ever getting anywhere near the top of a retaining wall and, in a number of cases (including my own backyard), to keep a pool’s liner from floating when confronted by high groundwater.’
‘We indeed have a fairly high water table on our lot. For the first several years we were there, the ground would thaw, the spring rains would come and I’d pull off the pool’s winter cover only to find a floating liner. This didn’t particularly bother me, but it was a hassle pumping out the water and resetting the liner. After a few years I’d had enough of this and decided to install a French drain around the perimeter of the pool, running it to a drainage crock that pumped the water to a culvert in front of our home. The liner never floated again.’
‘A problem like a floating liner is never a cause for panic, whether my company caused it or not. For me,’ Bruce concluded, ‘being called to a site to review and solve water problems is all in a day’s work and gives me a great deal of satisfaction. And just between you and me, it’s nice once the problem is solved to be hailed as a hero by our clients, even if the solution usually involves nothing more than inserting a French drain where it probably should have been in the first place.’
What’s your history with water-related issues on project sites? Do you see it as your concern, or is it someone else’s responsibility? Do you have a story to share that extends on what Bruce had to say in his column? Do your fellow watershapers a favor and tell your tale in the comment space 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 [email protected]