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Thread: Nightstorm's Overly Ambitious Virginia Build - 15,000 gallon semi-raised block pond

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    Nightstorm's Overly Ambitious Virginia Build - 15,000 gallon semi-raised block pond

    Well, I've finally broken ground on my pond, so I guess it's time to start my build thread. I'm building a 15,000 gallon, semi-raised pond out of concrete block with a remote filter pit.

    Background: I joined Koiphen back in 2007, after lurking for a good deal of time before that. I've been taking notes, stealing ideas, and generally obsessing ever since. I've been obsessed with fish my whole life, from fishing (I know that seems counter-intuitive, but it's not) to aquariums. I've had an affinity for asian styles since growing up in Hawaii in the early 70's (and I remember seeing koi in ponds around restaurants and tourist attractions). I'm an Engineer by training (alright, electrical engineering, but the zeal for designing is the same!), and I love building things. Finally, I have an almost obsessive problem with collecting "things" - beer cans (late 70's), comic books, rocks, butterflies, coins - if I can organize them, I'll collect them. So clearly, koi keeping hits all of these cylinders.

    Garage QT Tank: One of my first Koiphen endeavors was creating a tank in my garage. One of my earliest posts from 2007 (http://www.koiphen.com/forums/showth...erm&highlight=) was discussing building a garage tank that would let me start keeping koi immediately, learn a little about husbandry, and have a QT already done and ready to go once I built my real pond. In 2007, I was guessing the main pond would be in 2009...

    Well, it's taken quite a bit longer, but the QT tank worked out great. It's a little under 1000 gallons, has two bottom drains and a skimmer (all shower drains) that lead to a pair of 50 gallon barrels in sequence. The first is a DIY nexus - the barrel was intended to be for settlement, and within this barrel is a smaller trash can filled with K1 to trap debris. In hindsight, the flow is too great for meaningful settlement, but the static K1 works well to trap solids. A pipe from within this K1 mechanical filter leads to a 50 gallon Moving Bed. This has turned out to be tons of filter for the size of the tank (the MB K1 is barely a tan color, and I think the K1 in the static filter does a lot of the bio as well).





    It's a good thing I overbuilt the filtration, though. OK, I guess the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem - I now have 17 koi in that tank. A couple are probably 18", most are at least a foot. It's way too much, but then I thought I was going to have the outside pond done years ago. I haven't purchased any new ones since early 2011, and even those babies were only purchased because I thought I was going to build the pond THAT summer.

    A fluorescent fixture is above the tank on a timer fitted with full spectrum lights, but it sadly isn't the same thing as being outside. In the spring/fall, when I open the garage door in the morning and the sunlight angles into their tank, the koi don't know what's going on. They avoid this strange "sunlight", swimming around the edges of the tank to stay in the shade as if they're vampires. As you might imagine, I've had some issues with colors fading. I clearly need to build this outside pond NOW. But, I change water in the QT often, the filters appear to be more than capable, so it's mostly an issue of cramped space.

    Why it's taken so long: I was actually ready to go in the fall of 2010. Almost. I was making my plans, calling about permits, beginning to call about costs, but it stretched out a little too far into the fall, and would have meant building in the winter, so I decided to wait until spring of 2011. That spring, I called a bunch of contractors (mostly pool builders) about a gunite / shotcrete project. Only a few called back, and basically said "sounds like a fun project, but we're up to our eyeballs in pool projects in the spring. Call us back in the fall if you still need help". So I grudgingly waited until fall 2011. In the fall, I DID get some people to call me back, and they all wanted around $25,000 to build the gunite shell for me. Not plumbing, or filtration, or electric, or rockwork. This is a wealthy area in the suburbs of D.C., so I guess they can get that kind of money for pools, but it's out of my budget for a koi pond. So, I set my sites on spring of 2012, and redesigned everything around a block pond instead of gunite.
    Last edited by Nightstorm; 04-25-2013 at 05:22 PM.



    -- Chris

    Nightstorm's Pond Build

    "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." -- Hubert H. Humphrey

    "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change" - C. Darwin



  2. #2
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    Pond Plans:
    Here are my plans.

    First, the pond in relation to the house. If you exit our kitchen or family room out the back, you step onto a raised deck with an attached screened porch coming off the first floor. If you go down some stairs off of the deck, you're on a concrete patio coming off a walkout basement, part of which is covered by the screened porch above. The pond can be viewed from all locations, as well as a number of windows out the back of the house. The filter pit will be under the deck, out of the way, with some sort of decking over it to further cover it up.



    Here's the layout of the pond itself. It's got three aerated 4" bottom drains, with three circular currents powered by twelve gravity-fed TPRs. The top area, by the waterfall, is intended to have faster current than the other areas, even before the exercise circuit, to give the fish some choices in terms of how much current they want. It's a little smaller than the other two areas (to increase water velocity) and I plan to tweak the TPR returns to send a little more water there as well.

    There are two places where there are two TPRs right next to each other, and in those cases one of the TPRs will be near the surface instead of near the bottom. This may not do anything significant in terms of surface current, and I may not end up using them at all, but at least for the one that is across from the upwind skimmer, I wanted some ability to push crud towards it. I think flexibility is key, so that I can react to the effects of the aerated bottom drains, wind direction, changes in season, etc. etc.

    The "future no-niche skimmers" are really just plumbing from the pit to the pond "just in case". If one of those corners consistently traps crud despite the two regular skimmers, I can add a no-niche skimmer as required. Hopefully, nothing will be required.



    Finally, here's my sketch trying to visualize what it will look like when done. This shows the two upper plant ponds (future) that feed the waterfalls. These are relatively small waterfalls - the main waterfall header pond is 24" above the main pond, and the lily pond is just 8" above the pond. The waterfall circuit will feed the header pond, which will supply the main pond waterfall, and also some water to the lily pond which will then overflow into the main pond, creating two waterfalls in the pond (one high volume 24" drop and one smaller 8" drop). Note the person in the figure is laying down next to the pond for scale - he must be exhausted from all of the construction...

    You can see the large gray boulders along the far wall - those are supposed to be slightly submerged boulders, about 18" in diameter, with sizes/shapes mixed for interest. The green rocks are on the nearer sitting wall. Most of these are flat, and many will be cantilevered over the pond to give the water a more organic look, to soften the square shape of the pond structure.



    One of the unique things about this pond will be the raised walls. The walls facing the house (bottom and right of the figure) will be standard 12" wide walls about 19" high, intended for sitting. However, the walls on the far side of the pond (left and top - four small sides) will feature a mix of medium-sized boulders submerged about 4", with mortar filled in around the base to minimize crud from accumulating between them. I've had several threads about how to accomplish this, since the pond is raised and these boulders will have to sit on the wall. My ultimate solution is to make these walls two blocks thick, so that the wall is 16" wide and the entire wall is sitting on the same footer/pad. Yes, this seems like a lot of work, but I really want that look of a sitting wall in front and a wall of small boulders across the back. Here's a diagram that shows a number of different wall segments, their relative heights, etc.:



    "Interesting" aspects of the pond:
    * Submerged boulders along far side of the pond, sitting wall along front side of pond
    * Different environments in different parts of the pond. The top portion will have faster current than the lower portions. Also, the waterfalls are confined to this top part to limit water disturbances closer to the house.
    * Small "island" on concrete column - may hold small pagoda, large boulder, one side of mini-bridge, etc. Will have plumbing going up the column to support possible water feature.
    * Two separate plant ponds that spill into main pond. Probably water hyacinth and water lettuce in top pond, lilies in lower pond.
    * Plants - in the main pond, the only plants may be some floating plants in nets, anchored to the walls/island to prevent drift. Most plants will be in the smaller plant ponds that feed the waterfalls, so Koi shouldn't have direct access to tear up any of the plants.
    * Exercise circuit - plumbing for future, dedicated exercise circuit to give very strong current occasionally.

    Filter Pit Plans:

    Here's my plumbing diagram for the filter pit. It has actually become less complex over the years, believe it or not.



    And here's my equipment layout for the pit. The circles on the bottom of the diagram are actually a layout of the pipes as they go through the wall - they aren't objects in the map. Instead, they go through the blocks set on their sides in the relative order shown:

    Last edited by Nightstorm; 04-25-2013 at 09:03 PM.



    -- Chris

    Nightstorm's Pond Build

    "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." -- Hubert H. Humphrey

    "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change" - C. Darwin



  3. #3
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    Filter Pit Build:

    I wanted to dig the trench that connects the pond to the pit at the same time as the pond using an excavator. The problem was that I didn't feel comfortable digging both the filter pit and this trench at the same time, due to a pair of deck supports that sit at the corners of both and might have collapsed. This meant that I needed to dig and construct the filter pit walls first, so that I could backfill the pit's walls before then digging the trench to the pond.



    And being under my deck, I couldn't really get heavy equipment in there. An excavator wouldn't fit. But a bobcat would - barely:



    First time driving a bobcat - great fun. In addition to digging the pit, I also used it to move 10,000 pounds of rip-rap for a creek erosion issue I'm having. It did a good job, and I was initially proud of how much dirt I got out of the filter pit hole:



    Only later did I realize how much work I had to do to straighten the pit out, since the Bobcat had to come in at a slight angle. Then I had to dig out the ramp used by the bobcat. Then I wanted it a little longer, then a little wider, then a little longer again. Then I realized I needed to take the whole thing down another foot. So, after weeks and weeks of digging through hard Virginia clay with my digging bar, pumping out rain water frequently, I had a decent pit dug, including footer trenches.



    I then got to mix concrete in a mixer for the first time (50+ bags) for the footer (I'm surprised I don't have a concrete shell inside of my lungs), use an impact drill for the first time to make holes for 2' vertical rebar pieces, use epoxy for the first time gluing them in place, mix mortar for the first time (by hand), and lay blocks for the first time to slowly build up the walls. I turned standard blocks on their side to create openings in the wall to accomodate plumbing penetrations. The following picture shows the walls structurally complete - I still need to add one more course to the top of the walls, but I want that to be decorative split-face blocks since they will be above-grade. I plan to build a deck over the pit when all is said and done, probably with hatches to access the sieves for cleaning. I plan on putting full-length vertical rebar and poured concrete in every other cell. I already put them in the cells under the two sideways blocks near the top, and I've also done so for the cells near the deck supports to give full strength in that area. I'll do the rest when I have the pond pad poured, since I'll be having a truck and pump come in for that. You can see a brace I put across the trench between the deck supports just to be safe.

    Last edited by Nightstorm; 04-25-2013 at 09:16 PM.



    -- Chris

    Nightstorm's Pond Build

    "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." -- Hubert H. Humphrey

    "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change" - C. Darwin



  4. #4
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    Actual Pond Build:

    Now that the pit walls are complete, I'm ready to go with the pond itself. Last weekend, I rented an excavator and went to town. Let's ignore the fact that a huge wind storm had knocked out power for over a million people in the region, including me, and that I was occasionally idling the car in the garage just to provide power to the air pump for the fish in the QT tank. I was digging! Here's the excavator, with the outer edges of the desired concrete pad marked in white, and a yellow line drawn 3' out from that for guidance as I dug. Look how clean everything looks:




    As I dug, I knew that my challenge would be finding room to place all of the dirt. Nevertheless, I was somewhat underprepared for the sheer quantity of dirt that came out of the hole. Also, I somehow imagined being abled to make clean edges with the excavator, both on the walls and the floor. I imagined this perfect box-shape when I was done. Instead, it looks a lot like a... hole. It seriously looks as though my preferred excavation method was small sticks of dynamite. Here are some pictures of where I stand today:




    It's messy. I overdug in some places, but I need to dig out the bottom edges everywhere. The total depth needs to be 5'7" to allow 6" for the concrete pad. So initially, I plan on digging out excess soil and putting it in the low spots. I'll still need to carry more dirt out, and that will have to be by wheel barrow, up the pipe trench. I don't know how long it will take to get a level bottom large enough for the concrete pad. But the weather has been consistently near 100, and forecasts are calling for over 100 degrees on Saturday, so I'm going to have to wait until the heat that's been pounding the mid-Atlantic moves off.

    That's where I stand now. It's been three months from first renting the excavator to today, so it's slow going. But at least I'm building now, and no longer waiting and over-planning!
    Last edited by Nightstorm; 04-25-2013 at 09:28 PM.



    -- Chris

    Nightstorm's Pond Build

    "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." -- Hubert H. Humphrey

    "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change" - C. Darwin



  5. #5
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    Looks like your off to a good start.

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    LOL, that reminds me of when I first got loose in my yard with a Bobcat. I mentally pictured a neat excavation that could easily be finished off with a shovel.

    The reality was total devastation - dirt & mud everywhere, tire tracks/ruts all over the place and the general look of a bomb crater.

    Best of luck, you've obviously planned this out to a very great degree and it should be fantastic when it's done!
    Last edited by BullGator; 07-06-2012 at 10:05 AM.

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    Wow, great start, I am excited to watch your build, I am still in the digging phase of my build, doing it all by hand but getting close to being able to pour the footers. Your diagrams are fantastic and your plans are definitely well thought out! Best of luck, and keep us posted!

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    Nice! Can't wait to see more!

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    I had to add a "Y" before the Cetus to drain the pond or do a quick water change because the cetus only allows you to take out couple inches of water.

    Make sure to also add a clean out before all your sieves. I had to use it to clear the lines of bug larvae couple times when the flow slow down.

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    Thanks Tom - I think I have both of those items in my plans. The little arrow pointing up is a clean out, one for each bottom drain and skimmer line. I also have one sieve bypass drawn in, so that the pump is pulling directly from the BD and the water level can dropped as desired.



    -- Chris

    Nightstorm's Pond Build

    "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." -- Hubert H. Humphrey

    "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change" - C. Darwin



  13. #13
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    Very nice work so far...... I would suggest hiring an operator for a few hours to come in and make quick work on cleaning out a ton of the dirt in the hole. That will save you a ton of time and back breaking work. Plus most guys will do it after work for beer! It would be well worth it!

    I look forward to following this build.....thanks for taking the time to share with us all

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    wow..well thought out! I think Jason has an idea that you might want to do some calling around on. A person on an excavator that is experienced goes a looong ways

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    I just glimpsed over the plan,,,,artwork is incredible. Something that caught my eye was 2 skimmers going into 1 cetus. That only allow about 2200 per skimmer tops. Is that all you are wanting? or is that enough? Could be fine. How much water are you going to be returning through all those tpr?

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by jtp79 View Post
    I just glimpsed over the plan,,,,artwork is incredible. Something that caught my eye was 2 skimmers going into 1 cetus. That only allow about 2200 per skimmer tops. Is that all you are wanting? or is that enough? Could be fine. How much water are you going to be returning through all those tpr?
    You're correct regarding the skimmers, I thought something like 2200 gph would be OK for each skimmer. Is that low?

    All 12 TPRs will return the flow from the bakki, which is fed by three bottom drains - one to a cetus sieve and two to an ultra sieve III. So assuming I purchase pumps to maximize the flow through the sieves, that should be about 12,000gph. It will be interesting to experiment with the flow out of the TPRs. If they are all just left open, that would be about 1000gph out of each 2" TPR, which I think is a bit low. We'll have to see how that compares to closing off a few of the TPRs to increase the velocity in the others.



    -- Chris

    Nightstorm's Pond Build

    "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." -- Hubert H. Humphrey

    "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change" - C. Darwin



  17. #17
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    I have one little comment about your planting design.

    You show a Cherry tree in you plan that would overhang into your pond. A long time ago I saved a list of plants that are harmful to fish. I did not save the link to it it so I can not credit the author but it did list Cherry as "Cherries, (wild and cultivated), twigs and foliage are toxic. "
    Hope this helps.

    proudly Canadian

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    I am chiming in about the cherry tree.

    I have a fruiting cherry tree overhanging my pond. It is a pain -- the cherries drop in the pond, the birds drop the pits in the pond, the leaves fall in the pond . . . and, I can't spray it to control fungus or bugs very well b/c it overhangs the pond!

    If you can, I would not put a cherry there.


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    Ditto on the cherry ... I have one over the pond as well and they are ALWAYS dropping something! I haven't had any issue with toxicity, but I keep the bottom clean and the skimmer baskets emptied daily ...

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