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Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

Posted by jlp2617 PA (My Page) on
Thu, Jul 24, 14 at 21:46

We had a pondless waterfall professionally installed 3 years ago, and it has worked great. This year I did the clean out of the rocks myself as the installer never showed up. Ran fine for a couple weeks, and then it started "gurgling" and the amount of water recirculating greatly slowed. The water was "pooling" over the gravel in the basin. We added more water but it just pools.

We pulled out a lot of the gravel, opened the box over the pump, there was a bunch of sludge in the bottom. I scooped that all out, power washed off all the rocks onto a piece of screening, and washed off the pump. For several days it seemed to still be an issue, we left the stones out, my husband worked on it, and it started working perfectly again.
Now we are back in the same situation after less than a month. I have the unit turned off now as we don't want to burn the pump out. Water is just pooling, and won't drain into the gravel to refill the pump box. (these terms may be incorrect, I apologize) When the pump is turned off a while and the water filters back down through the gravel, and then you turn the pump back on, it turns on beautifully and strong, runs for a very short time, then the water is pooling again and the force becomes a trickle.
I have all the pictures I took when the waterfall was installed as well as when we unloaded the stones and had the top off the pump to clean it, if it would help. No call back from our installer guy, he must be doing something else now.
Please let me know if I could provide better information and what it would be. Thanks in advance for any advice.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

We have a pondless waterfall as well. We don't have any gravel in our basin - the stone is all cobble (2-4 inch stones). But we also have three matrices which fill most of the space.

If you have only gravel, I'm guessing the gravel is trapping too much sediment and that's causing the water flow to slow down.

Is your entire basin filled with gravel?


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

I'm thinking the same as lisak1 I use pretty big rocks (softball, melon size) around the pump box. I want the openings in the box to be as not blocked as possible. So I actually place rocks to make openings, I don't just dump rocks in.

On top of the big rocks I use smaller rocks. Smaller and smaller until gravel on top if that's what the owner wants. This sorting of rock size is what lisak1 called a matrix.

If you changed the depth of the pump box, made it higher, that would reduce flow into the box.

You have a lot of flow...that requires a pretty large pump box. I picture of the pump box would help. For the amount of flow I'm seeing I would normal use multiple boxes connected together. The greater the pump flow the more surface area you need for water to get thru to the pump. There's 2 ways to achieve this. 1. Multiple boxes, 2. Rock matrix.

I assume the current pump box is just big enough if installed with a good matrix

It isn't normally necessary to clean these every year. It depends on each pond. I've had pondless features go more than 5 years without cleaning.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

Thank you for your reply. I am not sure what a matrice is, but they did put in the large box type structures that are in my photo. The pump is housed in a black plastic tub with a removable lid. It appears that there are openings in the back of the tub that should allow the water to re-fill the pump box, but that isn't happening.
My thought earlier when this happened was that there is too much sediment, and I shoveled a large part of the gravel out onto screening and washed it off. If you think that is the issue, I guess we will have to dig all the gravel out and clean the area out? We have a lot of gelatinous algae growth too, and we got some liquid waterfall cleaner to put into it, but as I say, it isn't running now.
Do you feel we would have to remove everything to clean it? I see from the photos that it was installed May of 2012, I'd hate to do this every two years! It is beautiful though. Thanks for the help, I appreciate it.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

Thank you again for the reply. This photo is the only one I have of the pump box, from when we cleaned it out a few weeks ago. I moved the gravel so that the water would refill the pump box. I can understand what you are saying about the larger rocks not blocking the openings in the back. It sounds like you both recommend removing the gravel and putting larger rocks near that back opening of the pump box?

Will shoveling the gravel out be the easiest way? Then get larger rocks and put those behind the pump box, covering the top with the gravel again?

Regarding the flow there are several levels of force on the pump, we usually leave it turned down a bit when we aren't sitting out there. Thanks.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

Those are AquaBlox and that's exactly what I meant by matrices. Is there a manifold sitting in the bottom connected to the pump box? In other words, is there a way for the water to enter the pump box from the bottom? Or does it rely on water flowing into the top of the pump box to keep it full?

I would get rid of all the small gravel (it will continuously work it's way to the bottom if you try to layer it on top of larger rocks) and fill with softball sized rocks around the pump box, then smaller (but no less than 2-3 inches) rocks to fill the remainder of the basin?


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

OK, what you have is a Aquascape pondless system. The unit in the picture labeled "these units are in the 4-5 foot deep basin that they dug" is called an AquaBox. The last 2 pictures is the top of what Aquascape calls a snorkel or vault and holds the pump (I can't tell exactly which you have). I can't tell from the pictures what has happened and I can't tell from your posts exactly what you've done so I can't really help.

I can say some general stuff...

This system is designed to be installed a certain way. If you moved the components and didn't get them back correctly it would explain the problem. Aquascape has a lot of info on how these systems are suppose to be installed if you want to view them. If you want to hire someone to fix the system and can't get a hold of the original installer then any Aquascape installer can do the work. You can find other installers via Aquascape's site.

The AquaBoxes are suppose to be covered with 1.5" or larger rock, not gravel.

We have a lot of gelatinous algae growth too, and we got some liquid waterfall cleaner to put into it, but as I say, it isn't running now.
Anything you use to kill algae means the dead algae ends up down in the gravel. It doesn't disappear. Yes, dead algae is pretty good at clogging things but in this case I very much doubt this is the issue. Normally dead algae is trapped by the top gravel and there's plenty of space for the water to get down thru the gravel...but it is possible that's what's causing you trouble. My bet is something wasn't put back right.

Personally I think it's a lot easier to remove the algae by hand from the stream/falls than it is from the gravel. Or there's a way easier way to control algae...turn off the pump anytime it isn't being viewed. At night, while you're at work, whatever. Algae has a harder time growing when the water is off.

Like I already said...pondless features normally don't have to be cleaned for years, 5, 10, 20 or more years. The "sludge" you removed is normal and can remain in there. The sludge just gets sucked up by the pump and sent thru the system, no problem. When it is time to clean the system you only have to pump out the vault, stick a hose down there to stir stuff up while pumping. There's very rarely a reason to pull out gravel/rock and clean. That's a lot of needless work and increases the chance of damaging something or something not getting put back right.

A matrix is a layer of big rocks with a layer of smaller rocks above that, with a layer of smaller rocks above that, with a layer of smaller rocks above that, etc. I don't know how many AquaBoxes you have, maybe 5, but those are probably enough so you don't have to worry about creating a matrix. But you do need the proper size rock in different locations for this system to work correctly.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

Agreed WB, except it doesn't look like an AS vault and in order for this to work like ours does there should be a centipede that allows water to flow into the bottom of the vault. It almost sounds like this was set up so the water is fed through the top of the vault, so the only water available for the pump is the water in the actual vault, if that is what is meant by the openings in the back of the box. Not sure about that until the OP replies though.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

I got the top stones dug out last night, a large wheelbarrow full of them. Also, none of the components of the unit have been moved since installation, just the top taken off the vault and the pump cleaned out.

The small stones and mud are filling all the holes in the top of the aquabox, which is why I imagine the water was pooling on top of the stones and not filtering back down into the pump vault. If I vac the debris out of the top of the aqua box and refill the balance with larger stones, will that do it, or should I remove all remaining small stone in the basin?

Glad to hear that about turning off the waterfall to lessen the algae, I read on another part of the board that not running all the time would cause the water to smell bad.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

You definitely want to get all that small gravel out. There should be nothing small enough to get caught in those holes, for obvious reasons. Whoever installed your feature didn't do you any favors by using it. I'm guessing that may be why he doesn't want to come and clean it out himself? Anyway, it's not complicated - just some shovel work! Who doesn't love shoveling gravel! : )

I'm still trying to understand where your water comes into your vault (pump box). Is it being fed from the top? Or is there a centipede (manifold) that allows water to flow into the bottom of the box? That's the correct way to install a pondless waterfall, by the way, with water being fed from the bottom of the box. Otherwise you are dependent on that basin being full enough to keep the pump box full all the time, or the water from the fall has to drop directly into the box - either way, that's going to be an issue. But, if it was installed correctly and there is a manifold type system in the bottom of the basin it will also clog with that small gravel. In that case you will probably want to dig it all out and get rid of all of it. Otherwise you will just have issues again in the future. Don't worry about dismantling the parts - it's all very simple to put together. And get yourself some good sized rocks - like water bug said, softball sized - to put around the pump box at the bottom. You want space down there for water to fill up. The goal is to store as much water in as small a basin as possible - hence the reason for the Aquablox.

Also, we have our waterfall on a timer - it goes off at midnight and comes back on at 5AM every day. We save a little bit of energy and we never even know it was off! And no bad smell, ever.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

I'm assuming there is some way for the AquaBoxes to feed the pump vault, otherwise I don't know what the point to the AquaBoxes would be...and they're expensive.

Like the latest picture shows and lisak1 said, the rock is too small. It's clearly plugging the holes in the AquaBoxes. Here what I think happened...Some posts said something like "it's all just gravel" but it only looks that way to someone not used to this stuff. In the latest pic I can see lots of 1.5" rock and also lots of smaller rocks and gravel. My bet is the installer placed the 1.5" rock around and over the the AquaBoxes which is correct. However almost no one wants to see 1.5" rock at the surface, they want gravel or some higher end look like Mexican pebbles or something pricey. So what the installer did, and what I've done many times, is place smaller rock on top of the 1.5" and gravel on top of that. That creates a matrix that we've been talking about. The idea is very little of the gravel can work it's way down to plug the AquaBox. And this is why it worked fine until the cleaning.

Unfortunately jlp2617 someone gave you some bad advice saying this had to be cleaned and/or how it should be cleaned. Removing the rock is not needed, except in rare cases.

Fixing this is a problem. What may seem like the fastest way is to try and dig out rocks jammed into the AquaBox openings. It's OK if the rocks fall down into the AquaBox, not great, but fine.

Then sorting the rock you have and place 1.5" rock over the AquaBox. And then smaller rock and finally gravel. You can also buy rock that has already been sorted for you. That's no doubt what the original installer did.

Before adding any rock back I would hose it all down and pump water out of the vault and into the yard to remove rock dust, sludge, whatever. Then I'd make sure the pump/stream was working fine.

The down side to this scheme is it may not work. I don't know if gravel has gotten into the sides too...and who knows what else I can't see. If I was hired to fix this I would remove everything and reinstall because I don't want to guess. And while it may seem like a lot of work I think it's less work compare to risk. You could do this yourself or hire someone. Aquascape provides instructions online. DIY is about learning and you have to expect these kinds of set backs. Chalk it up to learning.

Glad to hear that about turning off the waterfall to lessen the algae, I read on another part of the board that not running all the time would cause the water to smell bad.
Yes that is true, people in forums do say stuff like that. Forums and the internet are places for people to say anything that pops into their head. There is absolutely no fact checking and in some forums posters aren't even allowed to disagree with a post. Forums want as many eyeballs as possible and don't care even a tiny bit about quality. And if you notice the kinds of people posting in forums are not generally professional pond type people (except some forums) they're just regular people. It's like getting advice from the dude standing behind you in a check out line.

There can be a pretty foul smell when first starting up the pump. It lasts a minute or so. It's trapped gases in the water from decay. It doesn't take long for most of the water to be cycled thru the stream and gases removed into the air and then the water is fine. It's impossible for the water to continue to smell bad for more than a minute or so.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

The point for the Aquablox is to allow for more water storage in less square footage. They provide an empty space that would otherwise need to be filled with rocks or other media (I've seen people use PVC pipes for instance). They don't feed the pump at all. That's the point of the centipede. It's a manifold (basically a thick tube with parallel slits to allow the water to flow through - again, I've seen people use PVC pipes drilled with holes for the same purpose) that attaches to the vault at the bottom and allows water to flow into the vault where it is then pumped to the top of the falls.

My concern is the builder of this system left out the centipede and is relying on water flowing into the top of the vault to feed the pump. That would create issues. There are openings at the back of the vault, but those are designed for the plumbing, not water flow.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

I don't think that is exactly correct. The AquaBoxes are to hold more water volume but must be positioned together and next to the vault separated by large rocks. The idea is to move that water volume into the vault to supply the pump. Just having some AquaBoxes and more volume doesn't really do anything if the water can't get to the pump fast enough. Which is the problem here.

I'm not sure why you don't think there isn't a proper vault of some kind.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

It's not the vault - it's the centipede that I wonder about. The Aquablox are just to hold water. The centipede (or manifold) is placed under the blocks. Water is collected by flowing into the centipede and then into the vault. The OP may have this setup - maybe I was just confused by the picture showing the water flowing into the top of the vault.

I've attached a picture of the setup - let's see if this works.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

I feel like it's just you and me here WB... did we scare the OP off?


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

No, OP had to do the requisite nursing home visits to mother in a law and aunt. I have got to dig out more area to get to the bottom and see if the manifold is in there. Impossible to tell from the top. We are blessed with a sunny day here in PA, but I'm waiting a bit until the sun isn't direct on the waterfall. We checked with a local stone "store," and they have the softball sized rocks that we need. DH stopped last night and we will arrange delivery, or once we know how many we need, pickup if not too much. This job would go a lot faster, but DH had stents place on Monday, and is on a no lifting ban for a bit, so I'm working on this on my own. I really do appreciate the advice, and will update after I get more out of it. One wheelbarrow is full, not sure what to do with all this gravel!


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

I forgot that I made a youtube video after the feature was installed. I'm not sure if that will show anything to you or not. I shop vac'd out the small stone this afternoon, unfortunately I filled the wheelbarrow too full of stone to be able to move it. Very irritating. I took out a bit more stone and unfortunately after I took this photo one of the large lower rocks fell out and onto the left Aqua Box. I thought they were all secured in. I'm not sure what I will do about that, but will need help to move such a large rock. If there are 1 1/2" rocks in there, there are not many, and we never dug down that low, this is small rock, and rewatching the video I can't say that they ever had rock separated, only the one load. Frustrating.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our waterfall


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

I forgot that I made a youtube video after the feature was installed. I'm not sure if that will show anything to you or not. I shop vac'd out the small stone this afternoon, unfortunately I filled the wheelbarrow too full of stone to be able to move it. Very irritating. I took out a bit more stone and unfortunately after I took this photo one of the large lower rocks fell out and onto the left Aqua Box. I thought they were all secured in. I'm not sure what I will do about that, but will need help to move such a large rock. If there are 1 1/2" rocks in there, there are not many, and we never dug down that low, this is small rock, and rewatching the video I can't say that they ever had rock separated, only the one load. Frustrating.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our waterfall


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

It looks like a vault to me from the square top, unless they've changed their products. The centipede top is (was) a rectangle, more rounded corners.

In the last picture the gravel looks way too small. At this point (latest pic) I expected to see much larger rock. When you cleaned the rock I assume you didn't remove any rock below the top of the AquaBoxes. True?

I don't know if the installer put that undersized stone in there. If they did I would call the installer one last time and say undersized rock was used, you documented this and if you don't hear back within 24 hours you will file a complain with Aquascape, the Better Business Bureau and Yelp. Whether this is an Aquascape certified installer or not I would register a complaint with them. These things are ridiculously expensive meaning Aquascape makes a lot of profit and they really don't like some yahoo contractor cutting a corner so stupidly as not using the correct size rock and giving them a bad name. Give Aquascape the installer's number and they might give him a call too. Unless of course this was because of the DIY clean out.

To remove all the gravel you have to remove at least some of the large rocks since it looks like the large rocks are sitting on the gravel. Don't want for them to fall down. Personally I don't like that building scheme but it is common.

If that size of gravel was also used below the AquaBoxes it has likely worked its way into the vault's openings and that could be the main clog. In that case all the gravel would have to be removed and correct size rock purchased and added.

Another shortcut is to buy a smaller pump. Or place a ball valve someplace on the pipe/hose going from the pump to the falls which may not be easy. And long term this might not work as more small rock clogs the openings more.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

Ugh. You have a real job on your hands. I would definitely contact the people who installed this. With gravel that small at that level in the basin, you will have nothing but trouble forever. All of that gravel needs to come out, and that's going to be a lot of digging, especially with those large rocks on top of the basin.

Do these people have a Facebook page? Post on it if they do. Do they claim to be a CAC (Certified Aquascape Contractor)? If so, do contact Aquascape and see if they would help you get in touch with these people. Or go to wherever THEY are and find THEM - don't let them avoid you.

I really think this job looks too big for one person to handle alone. If all else fails, see if you can find another CAC in your area who will help you get it right. That water feature should never need professional cleaning - you should be able to hose it down in the spring, pump out any residual water, fill it up with fresh and be good to go.

I am sorry you are having so many issues - one of the biggest selling points of pondless waterfalls is how little maintenance they require. But that all depends on proper construction at the start.


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RE: Pondless Waterfall pumping issues

oops, post deleted.

This post was edited by pkponder on Sun, Jul 27, 14 at 21:09


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