When The Fountain Runs Dry

I pass a certain roundabout every morning when I drive to work. I never really pay much attention to the fountain in the center, but this morning it struck me as odd.

Is it a water feature if the water isn’t flowing?

I’ve been driving up and down this road for more than six months, and I have never seen this fountain work.

There is another roundabout and fountain just up the road, less than a quarter-mile away, and it is always running.

So today a few of my co-workers and I were having lunch and, since they have all worked here longer than me, I asked if anyone knew how long it had been since the fountain had stopped working.

All of a sudden you could hear a pin drop in the room. The silence was deafening as four blank faces stared across the table at each other and no one could remember ever seeing it work.

It wasn’t long before we were discussing the merits of using water features in the landscape design in arid climates. It was noted by one and agreed by some that the fountain was an eye sore just sitting there in its current state.

Someone asked how much damage we thought the hot sun was causing on the plumbing, fixtures, and pool without having water in it to keep it cool and protected.

While we discussed this amongst ourselves, someone else asked how much money, in terms of electrical and water costs, the rest of us thought the property owner was saving by not having the fountain operating all the time.

Not to mention the number of gallons of water that is lost to evaporation in the hot summer weather.

One of the key design elements that almost every landscape architecture student is taught to include in every design is water. It goes without saying that the use of water in the landscape provides many benefits to the users of that space.

Larger bodies of water can provide a cooling effect to nearby spaces. Water provides habitat for fish and other forms of flora and fauna. Water also attracts insects, butterflies, birds and animals, and can give the user a feeling of being “one with nature”.

There are also the benefits with regards to sight and sound. Many water features are visually appealing in form and function. The sound of running water can be quite soothing for people who feel stressed or anxious.

As we were finishing eating, someone asked the question, “Is it really responsible to use water features in the landscape here with water being such a precious resource when our climate is still in the midst of a drought?”

I wish that there were an easy answer to this question. My opinion vacillates, and I believe the application is site specific.

We debated this back and forth for quite a while and never really settled on an answer we all could agree on. But one thing we did all unanimously agree on is that this year seems to be much warmer than any year in recent memory.

What are your thoughts about using water in the landscape in your area? Do you use it? Do you think it is a waste of a precious resource?

I’d love to hear your opinion on this. Feel free to leave a comment below, send me a tweet, or even an email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on twitter at @CDGLA or email: bcoleman001@gmail.com

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4 comments on “When The Fountain Runs Dry

  1. Renee' on said:

    There needs to be a kit that goes with every fountain with a cistern that can be buried nearby to capture rain water, filter it and refill the fountain reservoir automatically. And, maybe a sprinkler system to water the landscape surrounding the fountain. That would be a responsible water feature.

  2. Tim May on said:

    Most recently, I was involved in a similar project – a roundabout with a water feature – that saw the client reconsider and look for an alternative design (before it ever was constructed). When discussed in more detail, we expressed our opinion that the long term and on-going maintenance of such a feature would become a nagging liability.

    Rarely do we specify water features in projects geared more towards addressing non-pedestrian needs. Water features may be appropriate for more intimate pedestrian areas – plazas, patios, courtyards, restaurants, residential – and locations where vandalism and mischief are expected to be less opportune (thus lessening the “suds in the bucket” temptation). It is these applications where we start “playing in the water”.

    Depending on the effect, fountains can be wasteful with water. That waste may be insignificant in volume, but indeed wasteful nonetheless. As we’ve experienced a movement towards water-conservation in irrigation design, I think too we will see fewer and fewer clients asking for water features. Not only because of the cost of construction and maintenance of a fountain, clients may also elected not to build and instead wish to communicate a stewardship responsibility with a natural resource, one that rationing is becoming more commonplace regardless of the political climate-change arguments in today’s society .

    • Boyd Coleman on said:

      Very well said Tim! I too agree that water features in non-pedestrian spaces should be carefully considered. There are so many other “sustainable” choices that we can utilize in our designs.

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