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Aerating Fountains Add More Than Eye Appeal

Bruce Blau | Waterscapes

Water features continue to spring up across the landscape of this country, adorning more and more office complexes, shopping centers, and even residential properties. If you have not yet added water features to your commercial offerings, in addition to the visually appealing aspects, you can now use the very health of U.S. citizens as a selling point.  

The West Nile virus, a disease that captured major headlines and the country’s attention a couple of years ago, is still on the warpath. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the West Nile virus is a seasonal epidemic that flares up in the summer and continues into the fall.
The virus affects people differently. Though most of those who get the virus never know they have it, 20 percent of its victims will get flu-like symptoms, like fever, body aches and vomiting. However, one person in 150 dies from the disease. Throughout the nation in 2002, which included cases in 44 states, there were more than 4,100 reported cases. In 2003, that number swelled to almost 9,000.
What does this have to do with water features? The CDC draws a relationship between the virus and ponds where mosquitoes thrive and breed, since many ponds have little or no circulation. When breeding, the female mosquito lays a raft of tiny eggs in still water, and after only a few weeks, the hatched larvae leave the water as adults. Mosquitoes feed on infected birds, and the virus circulates in their blood for a few days. The virus then goes into the mosquito’s salivary glands, where it may be injected into humans and animals through bites.
Of course, if the water in a pond is no longer stagnant, the mosquitoes cannot breed there. As Charlie Barebo, CEO of Otterbine Barebo, Inc., a manufacturer of water quality management products in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, explains, “Aerators and aerating fountains are an effective and efficient solution to stagnant water. They break the surface of water and create water circulation. These effects restrict eggs or larvae from completing the lifecycle, and also hinder females from laying eggs.”
The advent of this health phenomenon has certainly affected the manufacturers of water feature equipment. Jerry Goldberg, vice president of sales and marketing for AquaMaster, Kiel, Wisconsin, says that its impact on his business over the last two years has been “incredible.”
“We were absolutely swamped,” says Goldberg, “as the stories continued to proliferate about West Nile, it certainly enhanced the need for water quality, movement, and aeration, to avoid that stagnation. Every third conversation I had was about it.”
Other selling points still apply
While the virus may be capturing a lot of attention in the headlines, the average American probably does not associate a fountain with its effect on keeping the mosquitoes away. The fountain is simply an alluring sight on a landscape, and this fact is not lost on building developers.
Goldberg refers to it as “curb appeal” of new projects. “Typically,” he says, “you’re driving by, the new sign is up, the trailer’s there, the entrance has been paved, the sign reads ‘Come and see ABC Commons.’ Often, they’ve graded in most of the areas, sumped out a pond area, and put in a water feature.”
This accomplishes two things for the developer. One is catching the eye of a passerby, and the second is assisting in the water quality issue by assuring there is enough dissolved oxygen present in the body of water. So, not only won’t it become a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes, it won’t become an unsightly, algae-filled pond, either.
However, not all fountains are aerating fountains. Aerating fountains are those that add enough oxygen to the water to prevent the growth of organisms such as algae. Before discussing how to tell the difference, let’s look at how the process takes place.
Aeration 101
Algae are present in a pond, usually because there’s not enough oxygen to go around. Ponds are famous for collecting leaves and other organic debris that fall in. Soon after, those things begin to decompose. The bacteria that perform this little operation use oxygen, and that creates a BOD — biological oxygen demand. The algae form and provide the oxygen to compensate.
According to Doug Cramer, the marketing manager for Air-O-Lator, an aerator manufacturer in Kansas City, Missouri, “Algae like to form, basically, at the surface, though I’ve seen them go down four or five feet. When they get cross-linked and joined together, and become that stringy, matty, baby-diaper yellow, that’s an indication that the pond is in dire straits, and needs assistance.”
Air-O-Lator is the latest incarnation of Cramer’s family business, which has been in manufacturing since the late 1800s. Cramer Brothers made vault doors back then, a few of which are still in use today. Before Air-O-Lator began making aerators and fountains, the company was producing ice melters for docks and harbors. The concept was not too far from an aerator, in that a pump in the lake would push the deeper, warmer water to the surface, so that ice couldn’t form.
Cramer says that people often try a chemical solution to deal with the algae, but he considers that a poor idea. “If you kill them, they sink to the bottom,” he explains. “What happens when they die? They start to degrade. That degradation is just like a leaf decomposing. Oxygen is required for that process and when you don’t have enough, you have a condition which emits odors and creates additional algae blooms.” On the other hand, if you treat the cause, you prevent the algae from forming, and decrease the BOD.
Barebo strongly recommends taking the proactive approach. “Proactive management means preventive management, keeping a lake in ecological balance by design and proper maintenance. Reactive management typically means crisis management. The lake manager waits until the lake is thrown out of ecological balance and a crisis occurs before implementing any programs,” he explained.
There are various techniques of aeration, one of which is a propeller that sits just below the surface of the water, pushes the water downward and creates a circulating pattern in the water. Another, called an air injection, or diffuser system, is akin to blowing air through a straw into the bottom of a glass.
The fountain connection comes with the discovery that water churned up into the atmosphere also aerated the water. “What you’re trying to do,” says Steve Springer, president of OASE USA, Ventura, California, “is break the water surface, so you allow oxygen to attach to droplets of water and take it back in.”
Unfortunately, the aspects that make a fountain look really spectacular can cut down on its ability to aerate the water. “A fountain can put 150 feet in the air; with an aerator, you’re lucky to get 30 or 40 feet in the air,” explains Springer.
When is an aerator not an aerator?
Okay, so where do aerators start and fountains begin? There is a bit of controversy in the aeration industry on this point. Some have felt that the bottom line was the volume of water that is pushed into the atmosphere by the unit, expressed in “gallons per minute (gpm)”. So, when evaluating an aerating fountain for a project, one method is to look at this item in the specifications. Many in the industry go by the notion that 800–1,000 gallons per minute of flow are required to treat a one-acre body of water.
However, others maintain that there are too many different testing procedures among manufacturers to be able to rely on the gpm measurement. Instead, they maintain that the metric to look for is the Oxygen Transfer Rate (OTR). This is the minimum poundage of oxygen that needs to be transferred per horse power, per hour to make an ecosystem healthy. The number used as an industry standard is two pounds of oxygen per horse power, per hour.
According to Barebo, “There are a variety of people such as lake managers, landscape specifiers, and water quality management specialists who can help determine what solution is best for a particular water quality situation.”  
Back to aesthetics
Aerators . . .
create a circulation pattern, discouraging thermal stratification;
reduce iron in irrigation water which may stain cart paths and buildings;
thwart fish kills caused by a shortage of dissolved oxygen;
help aerobic bacteria breakdown nutrients, thus deterring algae blooms and odor;
prevent sludge from settling at the bottom;
eliminate odors caused by decaying matter;
break up stagnant waters where mosquitoes and other insects breed.
If your pond is already suffering from any of these symptoms, installing an aerating fountain or subsurface aerator now will still work to your benefit. Barebo says, “Research has proven that even if a pond is in a dire situation and plagued with symptoms like those described above, an aerator can reverse the condition in as little as one month.”
Once you have determined that the aerating fountain is appropriate for the needs of your customer’s pond, there are numerous extras that can be added to it, all of which are becoming increasingly popular. Manufacturers are developing more and more inventive nozzles that can make the aerating fountain look extremely impressive.
However, be aware that one of the effects of the nozzle is to decrease the volume of water put out by the fountain. The less volume of water coming out, the lower the amount of aeration going into the water.
“Aerating fountains are very cost-effective to run. They raise property values and add to the overall beauty of a landscape. This effect can even be expanded into the night with the addition of lights,” said Barebo. Lights are easy to install, maximize the value of your aerating fountain and create a dazzling water appearance. While they will bathe your fountain in lighting and also aerate, the combination will do much more than just look amazing:
Security: Adding lights to the fountain increases the security of the property and keeps unwanted mischiefs from wandering about.
Eye-catching: Pond lighting is inviting and makes a grand welcome into entranceways at night. Since lighting makes fountains more easily identifiable at night, they are great attention grabbers.
Engaging: You can pick your colors. Showing your patriotism with red, white and blue lighting strengthens a community’s unity; gorgeous shimmering gold lights show your guests how important they truly are to you; and, multi-colored revolving lights offer a great show, if even just for an exquisite display for a family gathering.
Springer notes that his customers are making their buying decisions based on novelties like colored lights, and the ability to mix colors. Like many of the large manufacturers, his company has created an array of eye-catching options for customers who want to enjoy their fountains after dark. “With a large system,” says Springer, “you can put 15 lights on it and vary the colors. We have a computerized color blender that will rotate the colors through the fountain at night. If you really want to get crazy, our engineering department can make the thing run to music. You want Beetho-ven’s 5th on the Fourth of July, you got it.”
Adding maintenance for additional income
When you offer the installation of an aerating fountain, it’s wise to consider offering a service package to go along with it. While the fountains, if purchased from a major manufacturer, come with a warranty and most provide trouble-free operation, there are still things that can go wrong.
As opposed to many of the installations done in a typical landscaping and irrigation business, Goldberg cautions that the aerating fountain is not one you can install and forget about. “When you put in a landscape lighting system,” he says, “the worst thing that happens is that you have to change the timer with the changing seasons and light bulbs burn out. In the case of putting electricity into a body of water, there are internal maintenance issues with the equipment, you have the potential of clogging intakes, and you have light bulbs that burn out.”
In colder climates, the fountains also provide an opportunity for winterization service. In winter, you typically have to remove the unit and store it for the off-season.
For ease of maintenance, many aerating fountains are floating fountains.
Otterbine Barebo, a manufacturer of aerating fountains, instructs it’s customers to follow a basic rule: If the water generally does not drop and remain below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the unit can remain in the water. And, if you do leave it in the water for the cold season, they strongly advise that you leave it on 24 hours a day. This way, oil-cooled units will usually avoid freezing up.
Winterization can include an oil change and a visual check of the float, the propeller and the general condition of the unit. Basically, you can follow the recommendations on off-season maintenance provided by the manufacturer of your fountain.
The advantages of adding a water feature to the landscape are numerous. Now, in addition to the visual, and the auditory, you can add consumer health to your list of selling points.

By BRUCE BLAU


February 2004

 
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