Water Features

Image credits: Hector Arguello Canals, Unsplash

Small urban water features such as ponds, wetlands, small fountains, and pools can be components of many urban greenspaces. When properly designed, water features can provide a unique amenity for both people and wildlife.

Biodiversity role:

Impacts to hydrology and water quality limit the biodiversity of most urban water features, but these features can still support many wildlife species, and provide an important source of freshwater for all wildlife in the landscape. Even fountains can support invertebrate communities and provide an important resource for birds.

Human health role:

Water features have numerous health benefits including supporting park visitation, cooling, physical activity, and mental health. Water features are associated with bonding to place and support positive emotion and mental restoration.

Key tensions and tradeoffs:

Stationary urban water bodies have the potential to promote disease vectors and toxin-producing algae blooms. Some elements of ornamental water features that create human enjoyment may not support biodiversity. Water features at sites with the potential for the greatest human benefit are likely to have lower habitat and water quality, and may function as ecological traps.

Create large water features

Larger water features support more species; where larger features are not possible, include small features that can act as stepping stones and breeding sites.

Diversify features

Where possible include a diversity of water body types (varying in size, water chemistry, hydroperiod, stationary/flowing, fish/fishless) as well as structural habitat diversity within the water feature itself to support a wider variety of wildlife species.

Support managed access

Place water features near walkways or other high use areas to improve human benefits. Design for visual access can provide benefits while limiting human disturbance of plants and wildlife.

Include aquatic vegetation

Include submerged, floating, and emergent vegetation as locally appropriate to support a diverse community of amphibians, fish, birds, and invertebrates.

Use natural structure

Natural and spatially complex bed materials with sediment, cracks, and crevices support greater biodiversity. Shallow vegetated shores improve habitat quality. Vertical walls and concrete that prevent wildlife access should be avoided.

Manage heat

Trees placed to shade water features reduce daytime temperatures and promote human enjoyment. Shallow vegetated shores also promote cooling.

Use ecological pest management

Higher species richness, particularly of insects, can support more predators that control mosquito populations and limit the spread of disease.

Provide islands and
rocks for basking

Water features with structural complexity, including rocks that reach the surface, floating debris, and islands, provide safe locations for wildlife that spend time on land. These features also create opportunities for people to view wildlife without disturbing them.

Daylight creeks

Daylighting piped and culverted waterways is an excellent method for adding water features to an urban environment.

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