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/Aquatic Gardens, Design, Construction & Maintenance

Ponds, Waterfalls & Streams: Making Them Level


by Bob Fenner

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

In the course of deciding to build any given water effect there are two principle concerns:

1) That it hold water; i.e. not leak like a sieve &

2) That whatever it's made of not deleteriously effect water chemistry and physics.

Regarding item one above, any brief survey of built water features reveals a lack of success at careful measurement and/or construction. Most pond basins/perimeters are not very level! Why not? What happened to "measure X times, 'cut' once?"

Isn't it a little embarrassing when one edge of your system ends up inches (I've seen feet) higher than the other? Sheesh!

Dear Reader, don't let this happen to you. We all know (or should know) that aquaria must be set on something strong, planar and level. Unless you're well-versed in geological jargon; e.g. "that subduction from the San Andreas tectonic plate's really pushed down on the left side of my (sic) koi pond..." your structure's just won't look right if they're not level.

But don't despair, for my friend, I've committed all these grievous mistakes (more than once) and am more than willing to reveal all in the way of tools, materials and methods so you don't have to.


"Old fish water runs downhill & payday's on Friday". Okay! You're hired as a plumber. Just how do the pro's (hah!) do it? "It's" so simple, once you know, you'll blush at others' simplicity. Re-read the first line of this paragraph again and hold onto your seat (not that seat!) as we learn about the tools called levels.

There's lots of types; they all operate on principles of balance and gravity. Generally some sort of liquid is "captured" in some kind of closed or open containment where it rousts about as a function of it's vessel's spatial orientation to the mass of this planet. Well, you know what I mean, or at least you soon will.

Let's Be "On The Level:"

You've been to hardware stores, watched home-improvement shows on television, seen craftspeople with and using them. What are those eerie fluorescent green vials anyway? They're levels! Carpenter, tile, torpedo and more levels; named for function and application... but you can use them for your water effects. Here's how.


For levels (glass, plastic tube types) with a wooden, metal or other surround, you will need a good-straight (or level!) standard, like a good two by (2"X), stiff metal or plastic rod or pipe that extends the entire potential width of the work at hand. What are you going to do with it? You're going to set your level on top (or below) it to check the level of the basin, stream, fall, fountain,... sheesh!

Next, & very important: You need to check for level in more than one (at least in two) directions across the work. Like for fountains; as you're building up from the bottom perimeter, base and each pedestal and basin check at right angles at each piece to assess and adjust to level before proceeding with the next up.

Torpedo (or peedy) levels are hang-on types that you can use for large projects. These have little lobes that you loop over a strong string and stretch across the basins. A note of caution: place that peedy about half way across lest your line not be very taut. A further note of caution: get someone else to help check the level. Take your time at this step. These non-level things are hard to repair. Dave and a staked level line. "Now where's that torpedo level?"

But as they say on the late night TV sell-a-thons, "but wait, there's more"; there's the very best available technology:

And Then There Was Super Level!:

Tah Dah! It's wonderful, it's fantastic folks; thousands sold in Europe, freeway close... geez, I'm getting carried away. All 'it' really is/is a 'vinyl' hose with water in it and possibly a 'stopper. If you're totally tool-incapable there are fancy commercial mock-ups of what we're talking about here; water levels.

The gist of how they work:

A) Water seeks it's own level.

B) You attach (or get that ready friend to hold up) your store bought or home-made hose that's about full of water to some reference mark. Like a stake driven securely into the bank on the other side of the pond's edge.

C) You hold yours up to various areas on the other sides around the edge to check to see if they are or to mark them at the same level. Because the water in the tube is affected via gravity and air pressure about the same at about all points and will "float" approximately at the same level wherever you move the water level. The possible stopper(s) are for if you're friend and thumb-less to prevent water loss while moving the hose. Hopefully you haven't drive away all friends in the course of the darn project as leveling work is best done in pairs.

It's Un-level! Help! I'm Hosed!

Cut It Out; On Leveling:

Okay; so you've planned, dug, blasted, run out of friends, cash, patience and, oh no, Mr. Bill; the things not level! What to do? #1, don't panic; depending on your mode of construction, you just need to build up one side and/or the other. You can raise one edge by pulling the liner over a raised structure (rebar, railroad tie, block, brick). The other perimeter may be below grade if you provide adequate drainage away from the basin...

Other repair/adding methods do exist. But do it! Do it now! The project is going to look awful funky if you don't. If it's an in-place/pre-formed/plastic, fiberglass, metal system, it will be more inclined to 'fail' (read that as break) if it is installed or left un-level.

Some Finish Now!:

Oh yeah, I could have mentioned transits, electronic laser-type gizmos and other high-tech paraphernalia of surveyors and such but why? Most of us common po-folk don't have ready access to or expertise to use this stuff and it's unnecessary and sometimes misleading! You're going to fill your system with water, not surveying equipment. Use a liquid level.

Questions? Problems? Re-read this article.

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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