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Waterfall filters and skimmer boxes

Waterfall Filters and Skimmer Boxes

The natural water garden pond uses a skimmer box and waterfall filter. Usually this type of pond also has gravel and rocks covering a rubber liner. Aquatic plants are planted along the shoreline and water lilies in the center complete the picture of a beautiful natural pond. A few Koi are added and all seems well until the water turns green. This green water bloom is a normal and natural part of the cycling period of this type pond. Additions of beneficial bacteria will help to eventually clear the green water over a period of one to two months. These beneficial bacteria will start to grow in the rocks and gravel and will help to consume some of the nutrients that the algae are feeding on. These bacteria essentially starve the algae of a food source by competition. This type of pond requires religious weekly additions of beneficial bacteria to help reduce nutrients and maintain the eco-system balance. These bacteria can only consume so much waste at a given time.

If the water temperature is cold they will function more slowly and will not work as efficiently. If the oxygen level is low they cannot function well. Without sufficient oxygen, the good aerobic oxygen loving bacteria will die and be replaced by a toxin producing stinky anaerobic bacteria. If you add a lot of medicines to the pond you can also damage these bacteria. Bacteria may not be able to keep up with the input of nutrients going into the pond. Too much fish food, rain water or landscape runoff into the pond will add more nutrients than the bacteria can consume and the algae will simply grow more quickly to help reduce the nutrients. (Often your water will test perfectly during an algae bloom because the algae are eating all the available nutrients.) In time the nutrients begin to build up to a point where the bacteria cannot keep up and you will likely start to grow lots and lots and lots of hairy stringy algae which is simply growing because the bacteria cannot keep up with the nutrient load. So bacteria do help but they can only do so much.

Your filter system can work for the bacteria or against the bacteria. Your filter system does two things.

1) Removes solid waste.

2) Acts as a home to grow more beneficial bacteria, (Bio-filter)

It should be able to capture solid debris such as excess food, plant debris, algae particles, etc. If you flush the filter frequently and remove these solid wastes, you are lightening the work load of the bacteria. You are also flushing away potential fertilizer for the algae. Removing solid waste frequently is the single most important job you should do routinely for the pond. Your skimmer is your first line of defense for solids capture and removal. If you use our Green Matala pads in the skimmer you will capture large type debris without clogging the skimmer too quickly. The Green Matala will also protect the pump from clogging or running dry. If you are using the typical polyester pad that comes with these skimmers you are likely cleaning your pad daily in some cases. You will have better results with the Matala Green pad in the skimmer.

Some of the smaller dirt will pass through the Matala pad and the pump and be sent to the waterfall filter. The waterfall filter is supposed to function as your bio-filter but what typically happens is that the dirt clogs the bottom pads of the waterfall and then the water cannot go through the pads anymore. The water pressure simply pushes around the clogged pad and sends the dirty water channeling up the corners and right back into the pond!! Furthermore, if your water flow is channeling around the filter pads the bacteria are not getting adequate oxygen flow and will become a stinky toxic type of bacteria called "anaerobic bacteria" which can actually harm your Koi. If you place several layers of Green Matala on the bottom of your waterfall filter instead of the polyester pads the dirt can penetrate into these pads without causing a channeling condition. Then follow the progressive filtering by adding a few layers of Blue Matala on top of the Green. These will capture a smaller particle without clogging and also become an excellent home for beneficial "aerobic" oxygen loving bacteria. Top off your waterfall filter with a final few layers of Gray Matala. This will tap your finer particles and also provide tremendous surface area for aerobic bacteria. Try to fill up all your available space so to maximize your filter capacity. Measure the vertical distance above the shelf or ledge in the waterfall filter up to the waterfall spillway. This shelf is where your pads will rest. Usually there is also some type of support bar or pipe at this shelf. Add enough pads to fill this available space. Each pad is 1.5" thick so you can calculate how many pad layers you will need. Keep a few inches of open space above the final filter pad so water covers the pad before flowing over the waterfall spillway. You may place two hand sized boulders on top of the pads to help hold them down if your water flow is too strong. The goal is to allow a progressive filtering of large particle to small particle with good distribution of oxygen flow throughout the available filter area. Now if you do this you will be able to capture a lot more dirt without the clogging and channeling problems. You will not be sending dirt right back to the pond anymore. Plus, your bacteria will actually have oxygen in order to function properly.

Regardless, every filter has a limited capacity to hold dirt depending on the size of the tank, the quantity of Matala media and the flow rate through it. So you will still have to clean your waterfall filter periodically. Periodically may mean once a year to a pond with only a few Koi and no yard runoff. Or periodically could mean once a month if you have an overstocked Koi pond. Every time you flush out or backwash your waterfall filter you are washing out the excess dirt and organics from your pond. So the waterfall filter also acts like a solids removal filter. You will lighten the nutrient load on the pond and the bacteria will not have to work so hard and the algae will not have as much available nutrients. These are all good things; however, if you wash the Matala pads too aggressively or if you use chlorinated tap water to wash the pads then you may also lose a lot of the beneficial bacteria that you are trying to culture. So clean the dirt from the pads but do it in a manner that does not completely wash off the bacteria. Try pouring pond water from a 5 gallon bucket or over the pads and then drain the dirty water out of the tank.

Get real smart and add a bottom drain to your waterfall tank and then use a sump pump in the pond to pour pond water over the Matala pads sending dirty water right out the bottom drain of the filter. This way you don't even have to take the pads out to clean them!! Here is a little secret that actually makes sense. All the gravel and rocks in the bottom of your natural water garden already harbor sufficient bacteria to act as a biological filter. The bacteria you may lose by cleaning the filter is small compared to the bacteria you already have in the pond gravel. If you can flush out your waterfall dirt frequently you will have a lot nicer pond. There will be a lot less dirt building up in the pond gravel. You will have a lot less nutrients for algae and you will use less additions of bacteria product. It's all about removing nutrients frequently from the pond. PERIOD.

Aquatic plants are also an extremely important part of this eco system. If you do not have aquatic plants in this type of pond then you should consider adding as many as possible right away. Aquatic plants will become your greatest filter in a natural water garden over time. They do need time to grow and develop so don't expect them to help you for at least 6 months to a year unless you plant heavily right from the beginning. As the root structures spread out through the gravel and into the water, they will remove organic dissolved waste from the pond and thereby reduce the nutrient load and help to control algae naturally. Instead of growing algae you will be growing plants. But this will only work if you have sufficient plants.