Ponds and fountains
THERE ARE MANY REASONS WHYWE LOVE HAVINGWATER FEATURES IN OUR OUTDOOR ENVIRONMENTS. The appearance of a placid pool or pond is so relaxing, and it offers a great contrast to the (usually) arid landscape beyond. A small waterfall or bubbling fountain creates a wonderfully calming effect, perhaps encouraging daydreams of a rushing, clean mountain stream. Or maybe you just love fish, and the variety of birds that visit a pond.
Michael Northway has a particular passion for koi. There are lots of the fish, and some turtles (red-eared sliders), in large tanks in a back room at Oasis Aquatic Services. “The reason I do this,” he said about the business he shares with his wife, Nancy, “is that I’ve been in love with fish since I was a teenager. And I’d say 70 to 80 percent of the people in my industry all came from having an aquarium as a hobby. You do aquariums inside and they get bigger and bigger and the next step is to move outdoors. All a pond is is an aquarium in the ground instead of in glass.”
Northway built his first pond in the summer of 1995 in the back yard of his mother’s home. It was so cool that he and Nancy decided to open their own business, Oasis Water Design. In 2005, Mike Northway was hired to work as operations manager for another local business, Santa Fe Water Gardens. Five years later, the couple went independent again with Oasis Aquatic Services. They expanded into the retail sales market in January 2014, opening the store now located at 1939Warner Circle.
“We are contractors and we build ponds and fountains and we’re licensed for hot tubs and swimming pools and indoor water features,” Nancy Northway said during a recent visit at the store. “We domaintenance, construction, and repairs, and we’ve had this retail store for three years.” Oasis is an authorized dealer and contractor for Helix pond-filtration equipment, made in the USA.
The company’s main business used to be building and maintaining ponds for clients who had big homes and could afford to hire someone to do everything— they typically want something that’s aesthetically pleasing but don’t want to be involved in anything very hands-on. “We’ve done that pretty steadily since 1998,” Northway said. “But we were leaving a lot of money on the table in terms of the blue-collar, medium-income folks who were shopping on the internet and trying to do it themselves. So three years agowe started the store to capture that segment, to teach themand sell them the products.”
Oasis is currently “busier than ever,” with a newly hired maintenance worker, a well-stocked store, and a construction department booked months in advance. “Our main focus in 2016 is to educate and supply the do-it-yourselfer.”
If someone wants a newwater feature at a home or business, the company begins the process with an onsite consultation, for a reasonable fee, or with a free in-store consultation if the customer wants to brainstorm possibilities— which can be helped along if photographs of the site are brought.
“We can get the ball rolling here,” Northway said. “We talk a lot about design and that’s when we find the division: are you going to be a build client or a do-it-yourself client? Then we proceed and either put together a materials package and give them some education or give them a design and sell the build.”
An early, important question is whether you want a sterile water features, such as fountains and many types of pools, or a living system, a koi pond or a water garden. “A
water garden is engineered toward plants, and it can have some fish — goldfish, because koi can be destructive to plants— to complete the ecosystem. A koi pond is engineered toward keeping fish and it may have some plants to complete the ecosystem,” Northway said.
Over at EcoScapes Landscaping, a company that also does ponds and other water features, rainwater harvesting is a big deal. “For the last four years I’ve been developing building custom ferro-cement tanks,” said owner Michael Nelsen. “With the fiberglass tanks there are the transportation costs; nobody makes them here, so you have that embedded energy. Ferro-cement is much stronger in the long run and it’s eminently repairable. I’ve gotten a structural engineer’s stamp on the design of tanks from 4,000 up to 20,000 gallons.”
Awater feature can serve as storage for harvested rainwater from roofs and other flat surfaces to use in irrigating your landscape. And rather than storing rainwater underground in a buried cistern, you can use it to create a beautiful highlight for your property. “One of these ferro-cement tanks can be a feature in the landscape, but you do need to have a section of it a few feet underground to protect the valves and everything from freezing. Most of the tanks utilize submersible pumps that are designed to pump against a deadhead, in other words for drip irrigation.
“We do a lot of fountains and we build ponds,” Nelsen said. “Fish and plants love it, and you don’t need to treat the water. The key is keeping it clean going in. In just normal use you have a moderate amount of dust and bird poop and people ask, Doesn’t it get stagnant? No, it really doesn’t. It settles out and forms a hard layer on the bottomand if you set things upwith a stiller device so it’s not disturbed every time water comes in and then you draw fromthe middle for your irrigationwater, it will be fine.”
EcoScapes Landscaping, 6037 Agua Fria Street, was founded 15 years ago as “a company that designs, builds, and maintains beautiful landscapes, while remaining mindful of the local ecology and limited water resources,” according to the company website. “It is our wish and intent to work collaboratively with designers, builders, vendors, and individuals who are socially and environmentally conscious.”
Nelsen said the business built steadily until the onset of the national financial downturn in 2008, when it dropped off 30 percent or more and stayed flat for a few years. The number of projects has increased with the improvement of the general economy, but he said EcoScapes and other landscapers have all gotten used to doing smaller jobs.
“I am a landscape contractor,” he said, “and we do a lot of small rock walls and paver walls and boulders incorporated with moss-rock walls. And we’re designers. PeggyWright has a master’s in landscape architecture and we’ve been working together for 10 years. We do a lot of installation work with Stone Forest and we’ve had relationships with Prull Custom Builders and other Santa Fe contractors.”
A bottomline at EcoScapes is that you can have a beautiful landscape, with water features, without compromising the environment. “One of the top uses of harvesting rainwater is to be able to have a pond,” Nelsen said. “I have a small koi pond myself with a nice drop and the sound is great.”
Winter water lilies, courtesy Oasis Aquatic Services
A natural millstone fountain from Stone Forest, with landscaping by EcoScapes; photo by Kate Russell
Oasis set this stone fountain in a basin and surrounded it with flowers, ornamental grasses, and river stones
An EcoScapes fish pond that is refilled by an underground rainwater-storage tank; photo by Kate Russell