Excavators Help Build High-Quality, Low-Maintenance Water Gardens

Story by Carl Molesworth | September 28, 2010

Ron Reimer thought there was a better way. For several years after leaving the U.S. Navy and founding his company, R&R Excavating, Reimer concentrated on digging ponds for homeowners in his native Whatcom County, Washington.

The business took hold, but Reimer grew increasingly dissatisfied with the product he was putting out.

"We built ponds in the past that were pretty, but they were impossible to maintain," he recalled. In time, the stagnant water would become murky, attract mosquitoes and detract form the value of the property.

Then six years ago Reimer heard about the AquaScape Design Pond System, a completely self-contained installation that promotes a natural, self-sufficient water ecosystem. He went to Aquascape's school for contractors in Illinois and come home ready to refocus his business on building high-quality, low-maintenance water gardens for residential and commercial customers.

"We specialize in larger water gardens and biolfiltration now," Reimer said. "These systems are prettier than detention ponds and work better, too, because of the constructed wetlands."

Reimer said a 50-foot by 50-foot wetland can filter 2 million gallons of water and create a moving body of water. An added benefit is that moving water attracts wildlife at a rate 10 times greater than stagnant water, he said.

The shift to the Aquascape system has paid off in growth for R&R Excavating. Reimer said his company now is completing six or seven projects per year.

"A Big One"

To better understand Reimer's operation, in November 2006 PB&E visited a large project that R&R was building just outside Lynden, Wash. Located on the grounds of an estate once owned by a Canadian rock star, the water garden borders a driveway leading to the main residence on the property. A wetland installation also is part of the project.

"This is a big one," Reimer said of the pond. Indeed it is, measuring 65,000 square feet of water surface and reaching 17 feet deep at one end.

Starting in August, R&R excavated 11,000 cubic yards of earth to dig the pond. Most of the dirt was stockpiled on the site, to be used in the construction of the wetland on higher ground next to the pond. Clay soil on the property was extremely dense, so the pond did not require a liner, Reimer said.

Two submersible, 20,000-gallon-per-hour pumps, running out of a wet well at the deep end of the pond, provide power for the system. An aerator is located close by. The system is designed so pumps drive the pond water through a pipe running along one side of the pond and into the wetland. Fine particles in the water are filtered out naturally as it flows through the wetland and back into the pond.

Reimer said that by the time the wetland is finished next spring, the water in the pond will be so clear that visitors will be able to see the fish swimming at the bottom. Also next spring, the R&R crew will build a waterfall into the system. Reimer said the complete project will cost the property owner about $500,000.

Excavators Big and Small

R&R Excavating, based in Ferndale, Wash., operates a fleet of excavators, including three Kubota compact models and three larger Kobelcos, Reimer said. The company had two Kubota KX 121-3s and one Kobelco 135SR LC at the Lynden project.

Reimer said he had operated full-size excavators for many years before finally being convinced to try out a Kubota. Before long, he was hooked on the smaller machine.

"I love the Kubota minis," Reimer said. "They aren't the most powerful, but they are the quickest. It's like having a go-kart on the job."

Reimer said he has found it works particularly well to pair a compact excavator with a bigger machine for the kind of work he does. And he said he's had no maintenance issues with his Kubotas.

Kubota Tractor Corp.'s most popular compact excavator, the 4-ton KX121-3 has a maximum digging depth of 11 feet 6 inches and is powered by a 42-horsepower Kubota diesel engine. With the new standard auto idling system, the engine cycle will automatically decelerate to its idling rpm four seconds after the operation lever is returned to the neutral position. When the operation lever is moved again, the engine cycle automatically returns to its previous operating rpm. This feature improves safety, dramatically decreases operation noise and reduces fuel consumption by approximately 10 percent.

Reimer also places a lot of confidence in his Kobelco excavators. In fact he thinks they will play a key role in the next big market for R&R.

Reimer said he is buying attachments for his Kobelco 160 and 200 excavators so he can use them for on-site chipping and grinding, because he thinks a market will develop as the Clean Air Act increasingly shuts down outdoor burning.

Sounds like Reimer has another good idea.