By Eric Herman
Simply because water is universal does not mean humans necessarily understand it or see it for what it truly is. I’ve been covering all things aquatic for three decades and the cliché is true, the more I know the more ignorant I become. From the emotional, even spiritual facets of water, to the recreational and awe-inspiring, to the damaging and deadly, that darn H2O molecule is a formidable force of nature.
For all of its vast complexity, utter necessity and versatility, there is a natural yin and yang that emerges when considering the many faces of water. There’s the life-giving, healthful beauty that’s both soothing and exhilarating; and there is that dark side where we meet nature’s greatest escape artist, the universal solvent, the suffocating hazard, destructive surge, erratic electrical conductor, rotting seepage and the certain death of its prolonged absence.
On one hand, we can’t live without water, we value being near it and almost constantly crave its presence. On the other, it requires management, technical mastery and persistent maintenance to contain and manage its irascible character.
Nature does a great job of all that – humans often do not.
Water can never be fully mastered, but it can be controlled and conditioned to suit our needs, given the requisite skillset and diligence. Consider decorative fountains, for example, arguably water’s least essential application. Most everyone loves fountain. We adorn our public squares and most prominent buildings with them, and decorate the small niches of our homes and gardens. Some of our greatest monuments are fountains as are many of our most intimate places to gather.
Yet, when you dig into the world of fountain design, engineering and construction, we find a relatively unsung field that is all about taming water. Even a relatively simple fountain requires specific hydraulic calculations, flow rates, head pressure, pumps, electricity, water tight containment, plumbing, filtration, lighting and some form of water-quality management. Is it any wonder fountains, for all of their transfixing appeal, can be costly sources of frustration and effort?
The same is similarly true of pools, spas, ponds, streams, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, showers, toilets and birdbaths. The control of water in these systems is what in this space we choose to call “watershaping.” It’s the arts and sciences of containing and manipulating water, a discreet discipline like electrical or lighting design, structural engineering, audio engineering and, sometimes, pyrotechnics.
Point being, you need an expert in the mix when the work gets serious. That’s what watershaping is all about, solving the problems of water. Only when we’ve tamed water’s dark face, can we then imbibe in the beauty and wonder it brings with its other.
It’s easy to draw a blue spot on a plan or use a CAD program to conceive a beautiful body of water in the landscape or as part of a building, but you need a trained watershaper to bring those ideas to fruition. Leaving the water as an afterthought is to invite any number of watery misadventures. You wouldn’t build a bridge without a structural engineer or a geotechnical survey, by the same token building a body of water without a certified watershaping professional is a fool’s errand.