Splash, Trickle, And Flow

Mistakes in design and installation give water features a mixed reputation, despite the fact they can provide valuable elements in landscaping. Several key issues are often overlooked during the conceptual phase by designers who may not understand the intricate patterns of flowing water, the limitations of mechanical components, or the complex environment of microorganisms living in water. This may result in future problems:

  • Excessive waste of water
  • Difficult installation
  • Costly operation and maintenance.

This article is intended to describe a few issues most commonly overlooked during the water-feature design process. An understanding of splash, calculation of water in transit, implication of weir (waterfall) design, migration of water along the walls and edges, limitation for the pool depth, and selected color of the pond’s floor will reduce the number of flawed designs.

“Two” Many Designers  

It is common for architects and landscape architects to develop conceptual drawings for a water feature. These professionals are usually focusing their vision on the feature’s shapes (pond, stream, water channel, infinity edge, etc.) and on the desired visual effects of water in motion (e.g., waterfalls, jets). When the conceptually developed project is approved for development, the detailed design of mechanical components is usually left to experts specializing in fluid engineering. At that stage, mechanical engineers, pool consultants, or skilled contractors are required only to provide a design for the mechanical components (i.e., pumps, filters, piping, and all fittings) and ensure that the selected equipment meets the initial vision of the designer.

Therefore, the engineers are rarely responsible for any unforeseen consequences related to the initial design. In some circumstances, a specialty consultant may decide the initial design is not possible or extremely difficult to build. However, in most situations a compromise is reached, and a feature similar to the one proposed by the initial designer is constructed. If the final effect is a success, both parties are proud of the accomplishment; but if anything goes wrong, nobody wants to take the blame for unforeseen side-effects. As a result, the faulty water feature eventually becomes an awkward planter or an eyesore.

One of the primary reasons for flawed installations is that neither party has a complete set of skills necessary to provide a creative design while fully understanding the implications of fluid engineering, resulting in a reluctance to take full responsibility for the design.

Details, Details

The following are critical issues most frequently overlooked during the initial design phase.


This overlooked characteristic of liquids frequently results in a significant waste of water and is probably the most common undesired side-effect of many water features.

Water splashing from waterfalls, jets, or overflowing ponds usually flows onto adjacent paving or into planters. Wet paving becomes either a nuisance or, when slippery, a safety hazard. If splashed water ends up in planters, soil becomes oversaturated, and plant material that cannot handle excessive moisture frequently dies or appears unattractive. There are too many variables affecting the extent of splash, making it difficult to accurately calculate. However, a general recommendation of many experienced designers is that the minimum distance between the source of splash and the edge of the pool should be a minimum double the height of the source. So, a 3-foot-high jet or waterfall should be located a minimum of 6 feet from the pool’s edge in order to eliminate splashing beyond the pool. Keep in mind that, in windy areas, that distance may need to be increased to compensate for wind action.

Water In Transit

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