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Blog art croppedBy Jim McCloskey

The lengthy headline atop the news item definitely made the story worth a look.  It read:  “Couple blow £4,000 on two-year legal battle with neighbour over his ‘noisy’ water feature, which they claim makes them need the loo.”

The article appeared February 16 in the online version of the Daily Mail, a U.K.-based publication known for sensational headlines up top with detailed text below that doesn’t always live up to the hype.  That was generally true in this case, too, but it cut close enough to home that I had to read the whole thing.

It was all about a dispute between neighbors who, once friendly, had decided to stop communicating – at which point the aggrieved party started legal proceedings in a dispute that ran on for more than two frustrating years.  The family with the noisy waterfeature (we’ll call them the Ponds) hired legal counsel; the complaining couple next door (let’s call them the Loos) went it alone, and the result was a rapid dismissal by the court of what seemed a frivolous suit.

The waterfeature in question is an old pond that had been there for generations.  In a recent renovation, however, an aerating circulation system had been added to freshen the water – and we’re talking rudimentary:  Basically, there’s a length of two-inch hose that returns water to the pond from a short distance above the surface.

The result is obviously a monotonous, urination-reminiscent thrumming that, once noticed, would be just the sort of thing that would drive me crazy, so my heart goes out to the Loos.  And it only became worse when the Ponds lost patience with all the complaining and eventually dropped any inclination they might have had to negotiate this side of a courtroom.

The main consequence of the case’s dismissal was the fact that the Loos were ordered to pick up court costs and the Ponds’ legal expenses.  (You can bet their next block party will be a chilly affair.)

So weigh this, readers:  The offending waterfeature was fully 80 feet away from the property line, which may have stretched the credibility of the “nuisance” claim beyond the court’s ability to stomach it.  Nonetheless, I’m uncertain justice was done on any more than a basic property-rights level.  After all, there are so many solutions to the “Case of the Whizzing Waterfeature” that I think jurisprudence required a bit less juris and a lot more prudence.

As professional watershapers, you know how deadly monotony can be.  We at WaterShapes have done our part to bring this sonic issue front and center with several articles in which the need to bring aural variety to falling water has been discussed.  In fact, we ran a piece about a waterfeature that produced a sound so suggestive of the “occasion of personal relief” that something just had to be done (click here for that article).

All it would have taken to bring amity back to the town of Little Baddow was the introduction of something to break the monotony.  A multi-level, multi-planed pile of rocks just breaking the surface below the stream of water might have done the trick.  Extension of the hose to a submerged diffuser of some kind might’ve done the same trick with no noise at all -- and it would have improved aeration and the pond’s health at the same time.  Heck, better aeration might have addressed a key part of the complaint – that is, the fact that the system was running 24/7 and so gave the Loos no relief (so to speak).  

Said Mrs. Loo:  “It’s not specifically the noise levels that matter, but how the noise affects the enjoyment of one’s own property that determines whether a nuisance exists.  The noise never goes away and destroys any pleasure we previously enjoyed from our garden.  . . .  [W]e've even offered to fix the problem ourselves.”

One solution the Loos suggested was boxing in the outlet to direct the noise away from their home, but the Ponds didn’t see the need and the situation deteriorated.  At the Loos’ request, the town had even sent out an “environmental protection officer” to measure the sound level and pegged it at 40 decibels, “about the level of a refrigerator or quiet speech.”

For all that, Mrs. Loo had a point.  The sound, once noticed, would be irritating.  But the culprit was the nature of the sound, its wretched monotony.  And that one, single word didn’t seem to be part of the discussion in any way, even though, once that pounding tone crept into the Loos’ consciousness, sparks were bound to fly.

In my view, this was a plumbing problem, not a property-rights case.  The Loos were on a good path in suggesting that something could be done to relieve the monotony, but by going to court and making the wrong sort of case, they missed an opportunity to enjoy the benefit of borrowing from their neighbors a different, improved form of gently plashing background noise that would have made being in their own backyard a far greater pleasure.

And maybe all the Loos really needed was a small garden waterfeature of their own, properly tuned to wash out any sense that they even had a neighbor.  At $6,000, I think even I could’ve come up with something that would have made them happy.

To read the story and see the waterfeature, click here.

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