Drainage Issues in a Landscape

Today – this morning – I was thinking about how lucky I am to have the friends, the family I have and the life I have led. I reckon I have dodged my share of dreadful misfortune. I mean, I have also had some of that. But I am still lucky. Who knows what I truly deserved, in the end. My essential Denial is handy and applicable here, and I am sticking with that.

It’s just a sentiment, in the end, nothing more. But I suspect I also live for sentiment. Tacky, simple-minded and a clumsy attempt to love others around me and to compel them to love me, I am not sure I care whether someone doesn’t care for all that. I am stubborn in my resolve to spread some emotion.

So, if you have come this far, and if you don’t retch over emotionalism, cue up this tune as you read about the cut and “not-so-dried” logic behind water and what it’ll do to you if you are not paying attention. Multi-task with me for a bit……………

All the pictures in this post enlarge with a click, providing great detail and explain as much as the words themselves. The problem is if you click while the song is going on, the music will stop. Yes, this is a true First World Problem!

Hey – come back to them later. 😉

Back to water – here’s a wee bit of it now!  Thank you, Hokusai!!

How nasty would this scene look in your front lawn?

Recent storms here in Louisville have acquainted me with some local issues of drainage which some folks encounter with real regularity and sometimes even sad results. The one interesting similarity that the local climate has with, say, a desert town like Reno, Nevada where I also labored, is in the occasional deluge. In the North West, the “deluge” lasts 7 months – it is just consistently raining, often all day resulting in a quarter of half inch of accumulation – certainly enough to get you wet and definitely enough (take it from yours truly) to make real honest-to-Gosh mud. Oh, it can get serious. They sometimes get a 2 inch day. But we recently had a 7 inch day here in Louisville and it didn’t even rain all day! We’re talking rain drops that could pull a covered wagon – or destroy one.

It brings to mind efforts we always considered in our constructions. Where the heck does the water go? In these days when lawsuits over property lines commence at the drop of a hat, water and retaining it on one’s property have become more and more important. There are regions where people have been sued over their neighbor’s lack of control of their property’s run off – and, the truth is, it’s honestly the way it should be.

I once did a huge project of 10 acres where the uphill neighbor lost control of his retention of water and it resulted in the flooding of nearly everything we had constructed down below. The place was inundated with torrents of mud and debris, ruining about 3 months worth of hard work. I should also add –  it got expensive. Fortunately, we were able to redo it to some degree but we now faced an additional concern of the event happening again, no matter what the neighbor tried in his attempt to resolve the issue for the future.

Doug and Ed 094

These events happen. What I always strove for was some element of control which could somehow pre-empt the worst results . It could mean virtually over building a project. Even using real, real big machinery. 😉


In places where new developments flourished and bumped into each other in the process, like Reno, the land provided is nearly wholly flat with bare percentages of fall, generally 1-2 %. This required some creative solutions which often ended up being interesting landscaping special effects, introducing dry creek beds into the mix in a hopeful bit of artistic style.


sa400265 Sometimes these small drain courses intersect in a strange bit of mating complexity, forming junctions and joining forces to conduct water away from homes.


Take a look at this patio as we approached the base-rock elements for the eventual pavers to go above. Note the number of pipes involved – and bear in mind, this is very flat land, nothing like he dimensions of re-working and over building that occurred at the more problematic site above.


Notice the larger pipes in this picture, both black ones and white ones. (Smaller pipes, of course, are for something else, either irrigation or conduits for electrical services.) The 4 white pipes nearer to the home are drain pipes which either catch the rain from gutters or else catch the water we channel to them via this drain system shown below called a “channel drain” – where we purposefully slope the bricks away from the home into the drain, or else do the same, back from the pool.


In many ways, it is – hopefully – deceptive in that every single inch of that patio is engineered around the concept of where the water will end up when it comes down. What seems an imperceptible slope really does function as a most-vital conductor of water. Here’s another perspective:


Indeed, even the driest landscape effects – pure desert looks – must be drainage-aware. This meandering dry creek reveals our efforts to plumb even the most inhospitable-appearing plot of land into a manageable and drainable situation.

Doug and Ed 052

And here, it runs the other way, in a virtual loop, both systems draining back yard ground water collected from rainfalls and snow melt down, around the home and into the street out front.

Doug and Ed 054

In landscaping, literally everything slopes. Water is truly The Man. It determines so much more than meets the eye. Stuff like those pipes shown above represent a day’s work, some definite expense and will never be seen after the pavers are placed. It is also one of the many reasons one tells a client – “Landscaping is 80% preparation and 20% finishing.” We make messes but we actually don’t do it for pure recreation.

Well, most don’t anyway. 😉


8 thoughts on “Drainage Issues in a Landscape

  1. After landscaping in California for over 20 years, I have seen these drain issues arise every time it rains for more then a day. Then people forget about their drains until the next rain fall. Which might be another 5 years. I wish we received more rain so that we could sell more drain jobs..

  2. Drainage issues can be very expensive especially when it damages certain areas inside the property. Even when minor changes are observed and suspected, it is always better to have it checked right away to avoid further damage.

  3. Where drainage is provided by pipe rather than land course a lot of problems could be avoided by getting drainage contractors to check them out with CCTV survreys.

  4. I love the last picture of the driveway with the hills in the background. This is not an easy place for landscaping but every territory has it’s downfalls. Really good post, Steve!

  5. Drain cameras are not so easy to find in some places. Today a drain camera found roots growing into a main drain line. Getting those roots early will prevent more damage later. I was happy to see your drain solution, Steve, for this downward sloping property. Beautiful!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.