So now that you have selected a quality waterfall manufacturing company, you will now need to select the correct size for the waterfall filters.   You will want to factor in such considerations as size of pond, length of the stream or cascades, environmental conditions, use and type of water feature.  The larger the pond size, the bigger the Eco fall filter must be.  Also if you plan to have fish, you will want a Eco fall filter to accommodate the wildlife.  The average pond of 7’x9’x2′ deep with 4-7 fish will need a filter weir size of at least 18″ wide.  I would recommend the “Big Bahama”  Eco filter BF2600 with a 26″ weir (34.5”W x 25”D x 23”H), this can accommodate a pump flow of 4000-7000 GPH.  The bio fall filter will have a mesh filter to filter out the sediment, and will have 2 bags of lava rock.  These lava rocks will house micro organisms that you introduce to the system.   They will then create a colony and breed on their own and become self sufficient.  The microbes will eat the algae and bacteria in the water to create crystal clear water.    The end result is a natural, drinkable water source safe for fish, pets and children.


There are many companys in the waterfall and pond industry that manufacture the “eco systems” needed to filter the water in your feature.  However be aware that some of these pond products are not always as good as they may seem.  One of the largest players in the waterfall industry actually has one of the worst records on product quality.  I legally cannot say the name, but if you do enough research on water features, you can find out which one I am talking about.  I have had over 40 pumps fail within a year of installation.  I have had pond auto fill units stick on over 40% installed.  The screws and face plate receivers for the Bio fall and Skimmer filter units were made with ALUMINUM.  These aluminum parts were pennies cheaper than stainless steel, but to make a better profit they were used.  Within as soon as 2 years in fresh, filtered water, these parts literally dissolved away.  This problem is nation wide and has been hurting many contractors. 

This story is not to scare you away from building a waterfall, but rather to inform you of the best product to use.  I have been installing the “Atlantic” eco systems for over 3 years now and have no problems with any of their water feature products at all.  They use all stainless steel parts, their filter units are made with a much stronger plastic, no pumps have failed for me yet, and the auto fills have had a 100% success rate.  This company also makes all of their products here in the United States, unlike many other companies.  These products are also much cheaper than other manufacturers.  So in conclusion to my rant here, be aware, and do the research before building a water feature.  Stick with quality products made locally and your project will be a success.

Filtering the water feature can be done in many different ways.  Some will choose to go the easy way and add chlorine or bromine to the water fall and/or pond system.  This will keep the waterfalls clean, but depending upon the stone or rock chosen for the waterfalls and pond, the chlorine may leave a white ring on the edge of the ponds water level.  The more porous the rock is,  the more of the chlorine it will soak up.  There is also a great waterfall filtering product on the market called “Fountec”, and this product does not leave any marks on any stone or rocks on edge of pond.  This “Fountec” is a chemical and is not safe for fish, but water plants will do fine in your water feature.

If you want to create an all natural waterfall or pond, you will want to install an ecosystem.  This ecosystem can come from an array of products out there.  The idea of the water feature ecosystem is the utilization of micro-organisms to filter the water.  These beneficial micro-organisms will eat the algae and bacteria in the water to create crystal clear water, for beautiful waterfalls.  If you desire fish in your pond you will need to install an ecosystem to filter the pond water.

After the soil has been properly prepared and tamped down thoroughly, you are ready for the “underlayment” and the liner. The underlayment is one of the most important steps for a water feature, and is often one that many people overlook. The underlayment is a thick fabric apx. 1/4″ thick and will provide a nice soft backing for the liner. This fabric will ensure the longevity of the liner and will help to prevent critters from damaging the liner and ruining your waterfall or pond. This protection should be installed underneath every part of the liner, and you will want to lay it long on all sides of the feature. By extending the fabric beyond the liner, you will prevent loose soil from surrounding areas from falling into the water falls or pond.

After the underlayment is secure, you can start to unroll the liner. The pond liner should be a 45mil rubber liner, and should be rated “EPDM”. This rating means that the liner is safe for fish and does not contain chemicals. (Some liners out there don’t mention this fact and soon after the liner is installed in the pond, the fish die.) After you unroll the liner you will want to gently shake the liner into the pond or pondless reservoir. By shaking the liner as you pull it out, you will not stretch or damage the liner. Even though the pond liner is strong, taking precautions is always important for a successful water feature. Keep tension to a minimum, and avoid sharp rocks and tools. My crew will also take our shoes off, just in case a pebble or rock is lodged in the treads, or if you find a rock under the liner you will feel it. These precautions are definitely not mandatory, but we have never had a rip in the pond liner.

After the liner is set into place in the pond and cascades, you will want to ensure that there is slack in the corners. By creating a 2″ or 3″ overlap, or fold, in the bottom corners of the pond you will give the pond liner room to move. Most soils in California are clay type and will in turn shrink and swell depending upon the season. So by working with mother nature you will always have a successful water fall and pond. The idea of a liner based water feature, is that it can breathe with the earth. By using a flexible membrane you will never have cracks and leaks, and by utilizing expanding foam instead of mortar, this makes the entire feature flexible.

The first step to a water feature is to select the proper location of the water feature. It is important to design the direction of the waterfalls to drop towards the most popular place in the yard.   Once you have selected where in the garden this water feature will be, and what direction the cascades will fall, build your retaining wall to support the waterfalls.

Against the retaining wall that has been built, you will want to tamp down all the dirt.  This fill dirt should be the soil excavated from the reservoir or pond.  If you are planning on a tall waterfall then it is important to bring in more soil.  You will want to tamp down the soil every 12″ with a hand tamper or plate compactor.  This hill that you are creating will need to face the entertaining area of the garden.  Find out where you will view this waterfall from the most and aim the waterfall towards that part of the yard.  After you aim the cascades in the right direction you will next chisel out the hill into a simple staircase.  If you would like more interesting waterfalls you can vary the heights and create different directions of the stairs.  However when you are building your first waterfall, starting out simple is the best answer.  Later, when the rocks are set in you can manipulate the drops and cascades further.  Tamp down the staircase of cascades and soak the entire feature with water.  Let the cascade section dry for an hour or so as you finish off the pond or reservoir, and you are almost ready for the liner.

Our next example of a support wall on your water feature is a concrete block wall.  These walls are the strongest and will last the longest.  A properly built block wall should last decades.   These walls can be faced with natural rock for a more natural look and are stronger than stacked rock.  When building a waterfall wall, stability is important.

The first step to your block wall is to dig out a footing for the wall to sit on.  This footing should be twice as wide as the wall, and extend 12″ on the ends.  This is called a T foundation because it forms an upside down T.  After you dig down 7″, you will want to tamp down 2″ of base rock, then set in one level of blocks on top of the base rocks.  You will want to then drive 1/2″ rebar vertically down through the holes in the blocks and into the ground.  You will want to tamp them down to the appropriate height of the proposed wal.  Next take the blocks up and off the rebar,  then lay in 2 lateral pieces of 1/2″ rebar.  These rebar pieces should be raised off the ground 3″ with rock or a “Dobey”. The next step is to pour 5″ of concrete level.  It is important to have leveled wood boards bordering the footing to ensure a leveled surface to smooth the concrete on.  Smooth the concrete around the vertical pieces of rebar, and let set for one day.

The next day you can start to set the blocks up and over the vertical rebar, and stack leveled on top of each other.  It is better to pour the concrete into each block as you build up.  As you get to the top of the waterfall wall, smooth out the concrete and you are done with the wall.

After this wall is built it is important to have drainage.  Slowly fill the area next to the wall  with 6? wide of drain rock, all the way to the top. As you move in the drain rock tamp down  soil next to it all the way up to the desired height. It is also a good idea to create a landscape fabric barrier between the rock and the soil, this will ensure better drainage. After you have tamped down the soil for the waterfall, you are ready to build your water feature.

Another example of an inexpensive wall to support your waterfall is a pressure treated wood wall. The pressure treated wood will last longer than other lumber, and is a better alternative than the dwindling supply of redwood trees. When using pressure treated wood, it is important to wear gloves when handling, and proper ventilation masks and eye protection when cutting the material. Pressure treated wood is treated with chemicals to prevent decay, should not be inhaled, and hands should be washed.

A good support wall should have 4×4 posts set in a hole at least 18″ deep. Each post should be set no further than 4′ apart and each post should have 2 pieces of rebar driven down in the hole, and filled with concrete. Make sure the posts are level in all directions, and leave the posts to dry for at least one day. It is important to measure the posts properly to fit the desired length and width as well as the length of wood used. For instance, if you are using 8′ long pieces of lumber, make each post 4′ on center from each other. This will insure no wasted wood, and less labor and cuts.

After the posts are set its time to screw in the wood. Each piece of wood should be screwed into the post facing the front (waterfall side). The size of lumber that you use is really up to you, but I would recommend utilizing a 2x12x8′. This length is easy to use and makes for simple measuring.

After the wood is screwed into the posts it is important to attach landscape fabric to the wood that will be touching the soil, this will allow the wall to last even longer. Drainage is also an important factor in building these walls. Even though the support walls used for waterfalls will not be holding much weight, it is still important to have drainage.  Slowly fill the area next to the landscape fabric with 6″ wide of drain rock, all the way to the top. As you move in the drain rock tamp down the soil next to it all the way up to the desired height. After you have tamped down the soil for the waterfall, you are ready to build your water feature.

There are many different walls that you can build to support the soil of the waterfall.  The cheapest and easiest wall will be the “Dry Stacked Rock Wall”.  These walls have been built as far back as the roman times, and still stand today.  These walls consist of natural rock that are set in the soil, and built up on top of each stone.  It is important to utilize a rock that is more squared or angular, than a smooth rock, for they will stack easier.  The bottom rock is your foundation rock, and should be the biggest, as well as the most leveled rock.  From there each rock should be tamped into place with a rubber mallet until each rock is set.  Then back fill with soil as you go, until you reach the top.

This type of rock wall will be totally stable up to 3′ tall, after that height the constitution of the wall is weaker.  These rock walls are successful due to the natural drainage it provides.  Each rock space will drain the water from the ground above.  Most walls fail due to build up of water behind the wall, which in turn blows the wall out.

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It can be done!  Dig the reservoir and tamp down the cascade area.  Chisel out the waterfalls just like a staircase.  Lay down the underlayment, install the liner.  Set in the Bio fall filter and Skimmer unit, hook up the pump and your ready to rock and roll….literally, start to move the rock in right away to level out all the filter units.  Build your cascades, foam in the rocks, fill the pond and turn it on.  Now sit back and enjoy.

So you want to build a waterfall in your garden, but you don’t know where to start? Careful consulting and proper planning can increase not only the finished feature, but it will make the installation process go much smoother. The first thing to consider will be the location of the waterfalls. The best place usually will be the corners of the yards, and face the cascades towards the most viewed direction. It is very important to plant heavy behind the water feature to give the illusion that there is a hill behind the waterfalls, and there is an implied source for the stream.

Another consideration is the type of rock to use. You will want to look at the existing house and materials used in the garden. If you have earth tones, stick with Tan “Moss rock”, or a more interesting rock such as “Travertine”. Or if you have a lot of concrete or greys, then stick with a Grey “Water washed rock”, or a blue toned “Kryptonite” and “Great Falls Boulders”.

A few more items need to be addressed before you can get started with the construction. Are you looking for a pond to house Gold fish or Koi. If so you will need to dig out a pond 2′-3′ deep for goldfish, or a 3′-6′ deep pond for koi. The edges of the pond should be cut for planting shelves with a 1′-2′ run. A skimmer is recommended for all ponds, it will help to skim leaf and debris from the pond, and will house the auto fill refill valve. An “Ecosystem” will need to be implemented, utilizing microorganisms to eat the algae and bacteria in the water. Ponds will require more maintenance than most water features. The skimmer net will need to be emptied when it fills. The mesh filters will need to be washed down with a hose every 2-4 months. Water plants may need to be divided once a year, along with a yearly cleaning via a pressure washer and filter cleanings. Total cost for maintaining a pond is approximately $500 per year. This cost is still less than the maintenance cost of the same square footage of lawn. The water feature itself will also consume less water than the same area of lawn.

Another option to consider if you want the sights and sounds of a waterfall, but you don’t want any maintenance or liability, is a “Pondless Waterfall”. This system is just like it sounds where, instead of a pond, there is a reservoir filled with rock and pebbles to where you can walk upon it. The waterfalls will cascade into those pebbles and give the illusion of disappearing into the ground. This system can be turned off with no standing water for mosquitoes, and doesn’t have deep water for children liabilities. The maintenance of these systems require only a once a year pressure washing of the rocks.

Once you figure out which direction to aim the feature, which type of system you want, and the type of rock, you’re ready to rock and roll. Check back in, we will be discussing, in depth, all the steps you need to take to create a professional water feature that will last!

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