7 Proven Steps

to designing, planning, & building an amazing pondless waterfall.

Steal our step-by-step pondless waterfall guide.

by Gregg Sawyer 

March 19, 2018


People love water gardens because they are so soothing, tranquil, and a haven of rest.  In a day and age where you are constantly bothered with computers, cell phones, and electronic devices, it’s very soothing to have a place to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

“I enjoy its beauty and tranquility.  It brings a peaceful experience to backyard living.  Our grandchildren love to play in it.  We love the waterfalls and watching the fish play. “

–Kit Long, Cheyenne, WY

Yes, water gardening is a very hot trend right now. It’s so hot that a poll taken by USA Today (July 11, 2013) reported that water features were the number one thing that homeowners wanted to add to their property within the next year.  And, as you can guess, its popularity has only been increasing.

“We enjoy the soothing sound of the water flowing over the rocks.  It’s like a symphony of nature with parts of the waterfall rushing along.”

 –Vicki Million Hughes, Cheyenne, WY

How hard is it to clean and maintain?

Water gardens are clean and very low maintenance.  You can maintain one in as little as 15 minutes once a month.  You don’t even have to feed the fish.  Mother Nature takes care of everything.

“Besides pulling some string algae out in early summer and emptying the skimmer net, there isn’t much to do to maintain these natural balanced ecosystems.”

Greg Robinson, Fort Collins, CO

It all revolves around the filtration system. It starts with the biological filter & Mechanical filter.  The nice thing about this system is that these are completely hidden from view.  The diagram below will give you an idea of how this systems works.


Seasonal maintenance includes Winterizating and Spring Cleanouts.  All ponds in our region need winter preparation.  Debris cleanup from the fall may be inevitable, and should be done after the trees have ceased dropping their leaves in the late fall.  Aquatic plants can be trimmed, and pumps should be removed and placed in a bucket of water.  We use an aerator to provide oxygen for aquatic life. The aerator will also leave an opening in the ice to allow for ammonia and nitrogen to escape, preventing the death of fish. Proper winterizing makes for a much easier and smoother spring cleanout.

We suggest the cleaning out of a pond every spring.  Replenishing the water in a pond is much the same as the normal flushing action that lakes fed by streams and rivers experience during heavy spring run-off.  Spring algae blooms occur because of excess amounts of nutrients and lack of beneficial bacteria.  By performing a cleanout, you’ll replace the nutrient-rich water with clean water that is ready for bacteria to colonize.

The good news is that we offer a winterizing and spring cleanout service, so those who don’t have time or don’t feel like getting wet and messy have the opportunity to let us take care of it.

We’re in a Drought, Can I still have a Pond?

Ponds recirculate water and when compared to the amount used for watering grass, there is no comparison. Take a look at this example below:

First, we must make some assumptions related to pond size, irrigation efficiency, evaporation rates, etc. For the purpose of this example we are using an average 11 ft x 16 ft pond with a 10 ft long stream, an evaporation rate of 1/4” per day, and 50 percent irrigation efficiency (it will take 1” of watering to cover the lawn with 1/2”). When a pond is installed much more turf is removed than just the 11 x 16 pond area. Most homeowners will include a large berm as well as multiple new planting areas which can be drip irrigated much more efficiently than turf. We are assuming the total sod removed will be 3 times the pond area and the pond surface will take up 75% of the 11 x 16 footprint.


As with any example, your results may vary. This example clearly shows that replacing part of your lawn with a pond will increase water conservation. One homeowner reported a 78% decrease in overall water usage after adding a new pond this past summer.

What do Ponds provide for the Environment?

Backyard water features are not only enjoyable for us, but also necessary for the well being and functioning of our environment.  One pond in one backyard may not seem very important, but when you have a thousand similar backyard ecosystems functioning simultaneously, there’s truly a positive impact being made on the environment.  Large amounts of habitat are restored for frogs, toads, newts, and salamanders, all of whose numbers have been declining sharply for many years now.  Birds have also been driven from many of their natural wetland habitats, which they need so desperately to survive.  So at a grassroots level, as the pond industry grows, there are additional habitats and diversity being added to our stressed suburban environments.

An ecosystem encompasses all the parts of the environment, including the living (biotic) plants and animals, and the non-living (a-biotic) components, such as water, air, and the sun’s energy.  Ponds are ecosystems, in that they play host to a total interrelationship of all organisms in the environment. Thus, ponds not only create a natural ecosystem in their defined environment, but they also fit into the community or life cycle of not just one homeowner’s back yard, but of the entire ecological region.

An ecological region is made up of thousands of elements, water being the most basic of these.  Each pond is a piece of this puzzle.  As wild habitats are depleted due to commercial development and other factors, these pieces are eliminated.  This is why it is so important to restore and preserve as many of these as possible.  A backyard pond restores one of these pieces back to an ecosystem.  So don’t just see a pond as an independent, unrelated element.  See it instead, as part of the “big picture,” the regional environment.

What happens to the fish in the winter?

As long as the fish are provided with oxygen they will be fine.  They basically hibernate like a bear and stay dormant all winter long.  The three things you must do are:

  1. Provide oxygen (aerator.)
  2. Keep an opening in the ice, which the aerator does (allows harmful gases to escape.)
  3. Do not feed them when the temperature of the water drops below 50 degree.


Check out some of our pond projects below:

Long Pond Rebuild (2015 – Cheyenne, WY)


About the author 

Gregg Sawyer

Gregg is founder/partner of Sawyer Waterscaping in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He built his first pond in his parent's backyard at age 12 and has had a passion for designing and construction natural waterscapes ever since.

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