Dealing with a Spring

This page describes the work I did in 2010-2014 to control the flow of a natural spring in the lower part of our back yard that made the area very swampy. I describe both what worked and what did not.

The above photo shows the result of my work on February 6, 2012.


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Having a spring in the back yard can be a good thing if
  • It is in a usable location.
  • It isn't killing your trees due to oversaturation of the soil.

  • Let's consider the first issue. Water needs to be at the height you want to use it or higher. That is why we have water towers. If it is at a low elevation, then energy must be used to pump it to a higher location. This may not be such a bad thing if it is close enough to where it needs to be used and can replace dependency on city water, but for me, neither is the case. The spring is a good distance from the house and much lower in elevation. If it hasn't rained, it only provides about one gallon per minute.

    I did consider using a sump pump to move the water higher so it can be used for watering the garden. In 2010, I estimated the cost of electricity for this project to be about $25-$50 per year after running an electrical cable and conduit from the house, buying a sump pump, and setting things up to move and store the water. Not exactly a cheap or easy project, especially in the long run.

    Instead, we've started getting into using rain barrels for watering plants. These simply catch water that runs off the roof. The nice thing about this is that the base of the house and garage are much higher than the garden so for this, elevation is in my favor. Hence, using the spring water for the garden just wouldn't make sense since I have a much cheaper alternative.

    But for me, the biggest issue is that I don't want to be dependent on electricity for it. That's just another expense I don't need. I did consider a solar powered sump pump but the spring isn't in or near a location that gets reliable sunlight. Additionally, I wouldn't get sunlight when I need it the most...when it is raining and certainly not at night. What about a battery back-up? I've seen such things to offset the cost of a regular alternating current source but once again, the infrastructure must be put in place...and it still places depedency on running a cable and buying electricity.

    I could always get a windmill but that's just ridiculous. After all, we're only talking about a one gallon per minute spring.

    So what about the second issue? We have two 50-foot tall Norway Spruce (Picea abies) trees that run just eight feet from where the spring water flows. These type of trees do not like a constant supply of water. Saying they are not happy in a swamp-like environment is an understatement.

    So how did the spruce trees grow with the spring overflow there in the first place? The answer is that the trees were there first. We've only lived in the house since December 2009 so what happened before that is speculation but based on what I've been told, a neighbor built a garage. The foundation for this garage prevented some natural spring seeping from occurring. The water had to come out somewhere so it came out where it is now. Bad news for my trees.

    Thus, I was left with a time sensitive project on my hands. Divert the water past the trees to save them.
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    AssessmentOpen accordion icon
    The first thing Norma and I did was contact the county to see if there was a pipe leak. Maybe our spring wasn't a spring after all. We had to rule out that possibility. Thus, on June 22, 2010, George P. Robertson of the Howard County Department of Public Works Bureau of Utilities came out to check our property. He ruled out the possibility of a pipe leak.

    On July 18, 2010, we had a professional landscape architect come to look at our yard and offer suggestions. Matt Cohen of Matt's Habitats said we could plant vegetation that grows well in marshy areas to help soak up some of the water but that would not be sufficient by itself and it certainly wouldn't help much in the winter unless it was evergreen.

    On July 21, 2010, Norma organized a couple of our neighbors and us to meet with Kristen L. Parris of the Howard Soil Conservation District. Kristen saw how the water steadily flowed from our property into Savage Park, even after several dry days.
    Water runnoff from behind our property into Savage Park

    On August 18, 2010, we met again with Kristen and also her senior, L. Wesley (Wes) Earp. They determined that our property has Leonardtown and Fallsington soil. Both soil types hold water because they are "tight" and it does not take a lot of water to make them wet. Wes did some digging and found a good bit of pea sized gravel. He said it could be the remnants of a septic field or a drainage structure. Perhaps one of the previous owners recognized the problem with the spring and tried to do something about it.

    Wes noticed that there is a water runoff ditch on county property behind our back yard that carries water out to the Little Patuxent River via Savage Park. This ditch is boulder-lined and about four feet deep, which is good. One problem with diverting water is that unless you want to have it pumped, it needs to go to a lower elevation. The spring is already pretty low so finding something lower is a bit of a challenge. But this ditch would be just perfect because of its depth. However, using it would require moving the water about 120 feet, digging a trench 24-30" deep for this entire length. It would be very labor intensive or expensive if the right machinery was rented. The bigger problem would be getting permission from the county to dig on their property and have a pipe transport water through public property into this ditch. I contacted John R. Byrd, the acting director with the Howard County Recreation and Parks, only to have my request denied.

    The less viable option, according to Wes and Kristen, was to dig from the spring directly to and ending at county property, via the shortest route. This was less appealing than the first option because there is so little elevation drop. It would also require a trench to be dug along the flow of the spring, just eight feet from the trees I am trying to protect. There are more details to the construction but I'll get to those later. The one good thing is that this would be the cheapest alternative, requiring only about 60 feet of digging. But we all had our doubts...would it work?

    I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little intimidated by the task. The most landscaping I'd ever done was planting trees and spreading mulch. Now I was tasked with re-routing water to save existing trees. After talking to Wes and Kristen, I had an idea of what needed to be done but I figured I ought to learn more. After all,
    Fear always springs from ignorance.
    - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

    Hence, I read the following on the Ask the Builder website:
  • A Simple Trench Drain
  • French Drain
  • Linear French Drain Illustration
  • Typical French Drain Design for Soggy Yards

  • On October 26, 2010, Wes forwarded us a report of his assessment along with the solution he proposed. After having read so much, I now felt somewhat knowledgeable about the subject. I was ready to tackle this project.
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     First attempt: 2010

    DiggingOpen accordion icon
    I decided to celebrate Veterans Day (November 11, 2010) by doing something every good combat veteran is well familiar with...digging trenches. It was a good day to do this since it hadn't rained in about a week. Hence, the water table was low. The spring was still flowing...just not so strongly.

    I began digging where my property meets the park. I dug down just a bit so that the bottom of my trench was flush with where the steady flow of water from the spring eroded the soil in the park. From here, I dug eastward, at a very slight incline. I borrowed a laser level from Jimmy, Norma's brother-in-law, to aid with this process. But I ended up not using it since the water let me know when I had the right slope. With so little gradient, I had to make sure my incline was minimal. Too little, and water might not flow to the park. Too much and my trench would end before reachig the source of the spring.

    I've dug lots of trenches...most in moist, consistent sand in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. Those places are ideal for digging so trenching goes fast. But this was much more challenging. I thought digging through the roots would be a problem but I only encountered three that I decided to dig around. The rest were waterlogged and broke easily...a sure sign of the damage to the trees. The problem was that the ground was sooooo muddy. I sunk down a foot in my rubber boots. There were several times where my legs were not physically strong enough to free them; I had to pull them out with my hands. I dug standing in my 10 inch wide water-soaked trench, trying to move my feet as little as possible. I didn't always have the best body position for accomplishing this task. I usually couldn't get a large amount of dirt/mud on my shovel since it was so soupy. But the worst part was dealing with the vacuum. The same force that made it hard to lift my feet also made it tough to lift the shovel. After several hours of this, my muscles were starting to cramp.

    After digging 46 feet, I hit octagonal tubes, each about a foot long with a 2.5" hole inside and made of terracotta.
    Terracotta tubes along muddy water

    These tubes were not connected but rather spaced about a quarter to a half inch apart. In this space, water came out. Later, Wes commented:
    You found 2" clay tile. Many miles of it and larger diameter clay pipe in 12" sections have been buried around the country over the years to do exactly what you just did, lower a perched watertable. They were butted end-to-end and water seeped in the loose joints. As you noted, they clog with time and are very susceptible to disturbance by trafficking above.

    I started digging parallel to these tubes. Heading south, they took me about eight feet and ended at the neighbor's property. During this time, I encountered a significant amount of gravel. Where the tubes ended, a great deal of water came though the gravel at the adjoining property. It appears I hit the source of the spring. I dug another couple of feet eastward along the property line. I did this because the French drain I purchased is 10 feet long.

    After explaining my find to my neighbor, she thinks the tubes were installed a very long time ago. She said the previous owner didn't put them in. Why were they put in? Obviously to deal with the spring and to divert the water. But where? I didn't bother digging in the opposite direction. There were more tubes and they could have re-routed the water someplace else. Maybe the tubes sent the water to some other place but if that's the case, they were plugged up with debris and stopped working because I never found water seeping out elsewhere. Or, perhaps they just dispersed the water over a large area with hopes that the ground and vegetation would absorb it. Then, possibly because of my neighbor's garage preventing some of the water from surfacing naturally, it forced more water to come out the spring in its current location. Maybe the spring increased its flow for other reasons. Or perhaps the tubes just got clogged with mud. Too many unknowns. But I was confident that I found the source of my problems.

    I finished that day having dug 56 feet of trench on my property.
    The trench I dug

    Where my trench hit the octagonal tubes, it was deepest at about 2.75 feet.

    I was tired and sore. But knowing I found the spring made it all worth while.
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    Laying pipesOpen accordion icon
    On November 13, 2010, I was up bright and early, ready to lay out the pipes. A few days prior, I had purchased 20 feet of NDS EZ-Drain French Drain, 60 feet of 4" diameter non-perforated plastic pipe, various connector fittings, five feet of 4" diameter PVC pipe, and (over the course of the weekend) 840 pounds of general purpose gravel.

    I started by cutting one of the 4" diameter non-perforated plastic pipes then attaching them via PVC cement to create a single 46-foot long piece. Then I used the cement to attach various other fittings, including two cleanout pipes with screw-on end caps.

    I put a couple of inches of gravel in the base of the side trench that branches off the long trench and veers to the spring at the property line. I then placed one of the 10-foot long NDS EZ-Drain French Drains in this side trench. This is truly a remarkable contraption. It has a 4" perforated corrugated pipe in the center. Around it is synthetic stone. Then around all that is a mesh net to hold everything together and keep out dirt/sand. The idea is that water can pass through the mesh and between the synthetic stone into the pipe. Water in the pipe then flows to a the non-perforated 46-foot long pipe and off my property. The key is to make sure pipes are laid in such a way that the water always flows downhill.

    After letting the cement dry, Norma and I carried the 46-foot long piece to the trench.
    46 feet of PVC pipe running east to west

    I put a slotted end cap at the end which points to the park. This lets the water out but prevents critters from getting in.
    Slotted cap at end of PVC pipe

    I connected a T-section to the uphill end of the 46-foot long piece. On one side of the T, I put a cleanout pipe and on the other, I attached the French drain. The other end of the French drain connected to another cleanout pipe.
    French drain between two cleanout pipes

    I ended up not using the other 10-foot long section of French drain.

    I used fourteen 60-pound bags of gravel below, around, and above the French drain. With the French drain, the gravel took up about 12" x 12" x 10'. I could have used another 10 bags, especially if I wanted to catch any surface water. But I think what I had was sufficient for catching water from the spring. There was already a good bit of gravel spread out in the area under the sod.

    Compared with digging, laying pipe was a breeze.
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    BuryingOpen accordion icon
    The next step was burying the pipes. One would think that after digging the trench and putting in the pipes, there would be more than enough soil to cover them up. But for some reason that was not the case. I looked around for things to fill the trench.

    I used the octagonal brick tubes near the spring. I figured they were once used to move water and they could still fill this role. I shoveled the older gravel I initially dug out back on top of the new gravel. Of course the old gravel was a mix of rocks and dirt so it wasn't as good as the new gravel but it was certainly better than dirt. But I did put about eight inches of dirt on top.

    On the 46-foot long stretch of pipe, I put in any biomass I could find. I put in old firewood, branches, dirt, and pine needles. On top of all that, I put regular dirt. Things were starting to look good.
    Buried pipes

    While working, I found a few interesting things: a fountain pen, old bottles, a blue jay feather, and a northern two-lined salamander.
    A northern two-lined salamander in my hand

    I checked the end of the pipe facing the park. A steady stream of water was flowing out.
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    CattailsOpen accordion icon
    Matt suggested we plant vegetation that loves water.

    Even if our spring was under control, there was a good chance things might still be damp...just not flowing. After all, water, even if not from a spring, prefers the lowest point. The area of concern was most definitely low.

    I collected a big bag of cattail seeds from just off route 1, under route 32 in Savage. The seeds were just getting ready to disperse. I spread them out on the wet soil, especially near the border of our neighbor's property where the ground was most moist.
    Cattail seeds on wet soil

    I bought a couple bags of topsoil which I spread out on the seeds. But this was just a drop in the bucket. I ended up using leaves and lawn clippings to cover them instead. We have no shortage of lawn clippings.
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    Rain barrelsOpen accordion icon
    I checked things over the next day. There was no standing water on my property and water was flowing out the pipe. It looked like my idea worked, though I won't be sure until after the next big rain. Will it push the water table higher than my drain can handle? If so, I'll probably need to do some more digging and install another section of French drain.

    I was looking at this effort as a three-pronged attack:
  • Installing a means to drain the water from the spring into the park.
  • Planting marshland vegetation.
  • Making use of rain barrels.

  • Regarding the third approach, much of the water runoff from our house ends up flowing towards the spring. I've already installed one rain barrel to catch some of the water that would otherwise flow across the driveway then onto the lawn.
    Rain barrel enclose in PVC lattice

    Norma and I have talked about putting in others. Then we'll have water to use for the vegetables, trees, etc. whenever we want. But we'll also lessen the amount of water that flows to the spring. This later became a reality with rain boxes.
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    CostOpen accordion icon
    Hopefully, our problem is solved and my trees are safe. Only time will tell. On November 16-17, 2010, we had a good bit of rain. On the afternoon of November 17, I saw no standing water and the only flowing water was coming out of the tube and into the park. So it looked like I succeeded.

    Materials for the project totaled $246.69.
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     Second attempt: 2012

    EvaluationOpen accordion icon
    I would like to say that one year later, the ground was firm and dry with only lush vegetation growing in its place. But unfortunately, things reverted back to they way it was before I did any work. The ground was wet and muddy with no cattails.
    Damp area with no marsh vegetation

    My French drain was still allowing water to flow through the pipe I installed but the high water table meant it just wasn't enough. Previously, water left the drain and fell about an inch into the stream. A year later, the stream was about three inches higher which meant there wasn't enough of an elevation drop for water to flow out. Why is this?

    2011 was a record year. We had lots of heat in the summer, an earthquake, and record-breaking rain. Tropical storms Irene and Lee brought a tremendous amount of water to the area in late August and early September. Even by the end of the year, our water table was unusually high.

    I don't believe adding more French drains will help significantly. In some places they might be a good solution but where I put them, there is too much debris to clog them up.
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    Rip rap and fill dirtOpen accordion icon
    My new plan was to do as I've seen done in drainage sites built by the county. They have rocks (4"-6") long in the area they want water to travel. Then the dirt around it is built up. I could buy these rocks and then put them along our chain link fence from the park to where the spring begins, in a line 21" wide, 21" deep, and 60' long. This means I need to order at least 184 cubic feet (~seven cubic yards) of rocks. Then I'll build up the ground adjacent to it, making it at least a foot higher. I'm estimating I'll need about 475 cubic feet (~18 cubic yards) of fill dirt. The rocks should prevent the built-up ground from eroding. Since the rocks will be the lowest point, the water should stay along the fence then head straight to the park without getting any closer to my Norway spruce trees. The trees will still get more water than they should but with the water remaining further away, they should be much better off. By concentrating the path of the water in one clearly defined line, the rest of the ground should stay dry. My goal is to have this resolved by spring 2012.

    Rocks aren't cheap, so I went with rip-rap instead which is less expensive. Rip rap is broken up concrete...the stuff I see at the edge of waterfront homes to prevent erosion. It is generally sold by the ton, not cubic yard. According to Material Coverage and Conversion Chart, a cubic yard of rip rap weighs 1.65 tons. So I need about 12 tons.

    So where can I buy all this stuff?
  • All Landscape Supply: On their bulk price list, they charge $50 for a ton of gray/white rip rap 4-7", $15 per yard (I assume they mean cubic) of fill dirt for 1-10 yards then $12/per for 11 yards and up. They are ~23 miles from Savage.
  • TRW Enterprises: Rip Rap - $28 per ton, white/grey 3"-7". Screened Fill Dirt - $16 per yard. They deliver landscape supplies within 60 miles of Manchester, Maryland. Savage is about 47 miles from Manchester so I expect the delivery charge would be way high.
  • Savage Stone: I checked this place out but they don't do deliveries. I think they sell to places that deliver. But they gave me a couple of phone numbers of places that deliver and sell what I want. These appear in the following bullets.
  • Patuxent Companies - Crofton Aggregate: Call 410-793-0503. To buy and deliver 12 tons of rip rap and 18 cubic yards of fill dirt will cost $623.36 and $375, respectively.
  • Aggtrans: Call 410-766-4242 and ask for Eric. To buy and deliver 12 tons of gabion (4"-7") rip rap and 18 cubic yards of fill dirt will cost $450 and $309, respectively. Eric confirmed that 12 tons of rip rap is equivalent to about eight cubic yards. This is an excellent price. They just need to know my order a couple of days in advance. I ended up going with them. I placed my order about a week and a half later. I changed my mind and went with the 5"-15" rip rap (class one). Twelve tons of this after delivery costs $408.84 after tax. Had I gone with gabion, it would have cost $355 so the price went down over the week and a half. I actually ended up getting 12.86 tons. But the price for fill dirt went up a bit so I guess it balanced out. I got 16 cubic yards (21.25 tons) of fill dirt which cost $298.20 after tax. I would have preferred 18 cubic yards but their truck only holds 16 and getting the extra two cubic yards wouldn't have been worth the cost. So I ended up spending a total of $707.04.

  • I got the dirt and rip rap delivered on January 6, 2012.
    Dirt and rip rap in my neighbor's driveway which they let me use

    I spent that afternoon, the next two days, and three hours on the 9th getting it all moved.
    Me shoveling dirt into a wheelbarrow

    Norma helped a bit too. Overall, it took about 30 hours to dig the trench, fill it with rip rap, put dirt around it, and move extra rocks off my neighbor's dirt driveway (that's where it was dropped off, with her permission). If I had to do it again, I would order 10 tons of rip rap. I could have also used an extra couple of tons of dirt.

    The biggest challenge in moving things was getting the wheelbarrow through the soft, water-saturated soil near the spring. The tire would sink in and if I didn't have enough momentum, it would get stuck. So I would carry maybe 150 pounds of rip rap or dirt, running so I could get enough speed to make it through the soft soil before dumping my load. It was quite the workout. Then, after a few passes, I would have to flatten out the tire marks.

    While I was working, our neighbor's pit bull, Turbo, chased and barked at my wheelbarrow from behind their fence. He didn't mind me but he hated the wheelbarrow. He also barked at our cat, Asha. The picture below proves that good fences make good neighbors.
    Turbo and Asha in stare-off with a fence between them

    Our True Temper Never Rust wheelbarrow didn't survive the whole ordeal. The plastic bucket cracked and the steel frame got bent out of shape. I don't see the point in having a bucket that will never rust if it breaks first. The thing was only about a year and a half old.
    True Temper Never Rust wheelbarrow on its side with a bent frame

    Another casualty were the brand new HandMaster work gloves I got for Christmas from my parents. By the time I was done with the weekend, the non-leather sections had holes and the stitching between the leather sections was coming apart.

    When it was all done, I had a good layer of rip rap that provided support to the trench I dug to divert the water. It also helped hold up the chain link fence supports and keep back the debris from our neighbor's property that was pushing against our fence. All the dirt helped keep the rip rap in place and ensure the trench was the lowest section.

    Below is a view looking west (downhill). The section where the rip rap flares out is directly above the French drain. The idea is this configuration will still allow the French drain to do at least a little work.
    Rip rap and dirt holding each other in place, looking west

    Below is a view looking east (uphill). I am concerned that the section to the left in the below photo will now be the low point and start pooling water. But whatever water accumulates should just be from rain and not the spring. Maybe just ensuring things are level will help ensure water doesn't pool. Over the next several years, I added organic matter (e.g. grass clippings) to this low point area to try to build it up.
    Rip rap and dirt holding each other in place, looking east

    The picture below shows water flowing from our property into Savage Park. The white pipe is from the French drain. By itself, the French drain was insufficient but hopefully the rip rap-lined trench will give it enough help to resolve my problem.
    Water flowing from our property into Savage Park

    One of my concerns is that all the pea-sized gravel under all my fill dirt and rip rap will spread out the water from the spring to the north. This is beyond where I put a lot of fill dirt and somewhat far from the spring. In the past, the ground has always been soft in this area but it hasn't pooled. I'm hoping that the water from the spring will be lazy and go to the lowest point, which is the section I dug that is now under the rip rap. And after a few months, the ground in the other sections will dry up. But only time will tell. I won't declare this job complete until it stands the test of time.

    I can honestly say that moving all this rip rap and dirt was the most physically demanding work I've ever done. If you are faced with a similar task, I suggest you hire a team to help you and not try to do it all yourself.
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    Rain boxesOpen accordion icon
    I also managed to reduce the amount of water flowing downhill by installing two more rain barrels. Actually, these are rain boxes since they are box-shaped. Each is a recycled Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) Tote that holds about 225 gallons. We got them for free. In total, with both rain boxes and the rain barrel, we are able to store about 500 gallons of runoff water. Every little bit helps. Here's the one on the north side of our property.
    Rain box enclosed in PVC lattice on north side of our property

    This is the one on the south side, next to our garage.
    Rain box enclosed in PVC lattice on south side of our property

    Notice the overflow pipes and the in-flow diverters I installed on the rain boxes so I can deactivate them in the winter to keep the boxes from cracking when water freezes. Just make sure to put a screen over the in-flow section that is tight to the opening. Otherwise, you'll have a nice home for mosquito larvae, as I did. The shape of the top of the boxes isn't the best for preventing standing water so put pennies anywhere water might accummulate. According to Water Quality Monitoring in Singapore's Natural Areas, the copper will prevent mosquito larvae from growing.

    I never expected my installing rain barrels or rain boxes to save me much money. Sure, I might pay for less water but that amount is trivial compared to the up-front cost. In order to make a level base, I had to buy lumber for the barrel, and cinder blocks, rocks, and paver sand for the boxes. I also bought lattice to conceal them and PVC pipes for the outflow and overflow. There was also the cost for the gutter downspout modification. Then one day, I read how rain barrels/boxes might actually reduce my taxes in 2014. A new fee was supposed to appear on my property tax bill, resulting from the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, a state-wide bill. Under this bill,
    For every 500 square feet of impervious cover, property owners will be charged $7.80. Homes built after 2000 will pay a lower fee because they use the latest stormwater standards.
    For example, the owner of a moderately sized home (roughly 2,640 square feet) built before 2002 can expect to pay $39 a year, while the onwer of a home built after 2002 would pay $31.
    Owners of larger homes with long driveways can expect to pay $195 if their home was built before 2002 and $101 if it was built after 2002.
    - from County announces stormwater fee to begin in 2014 which appeared in the January 31, 2013 edition of The Columbia Flier

    This means that for my property, I can expect to pay about $82 per year as a result of this new fee.

    So how do rain barrels/boxes fit into this? The same source states
    The state requires counties to offer a credit for property owners implementing physical modifications to reduce runoff. Under the Howard County plan, residents can earn credits by building a rain garden, installing rain barrels, or using porous pavers in their driveway.
    Earning credits could reduce the fee by as much as 50 percent on an annual basis.

    Later, the county decided to simplify the stormwater fee so the above incentives no longer apply.
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    EvaluationOpen accordion icon
    Just having the rip rap go along the fence line wasn't enough. Water was seeping up from further north. So a few months later, I extended the trench and rip rap about another 12 feet in that direction. It connected with a low point in the yard so that any runoff should go to the rip rap and into the trench.

    I also piled up dirt around the rip rap, except at that low point. This would help keep the water in the trench. I planted grass to help control erosion. The pre-mixed dirt, seed, and fertlizer stuff worked pretty good. I had my doubts at first since the dirt I had purchased was as unfertile as it could be but the claim for this stuff was that it would even grow on concrete. It did indeed grow when watered twice daily. After about two weeks, I watered it once daily then gradually not at all. Several months later, it was doing fine.

    I added organic matter to the dirt piled around the rip rap under the Norway Spruce trees. Here, it is dark enough so that grass won't grow. I just want to keep the dirt from eroding so I dropped grass clippings and pine needles here along with any spare dirt I could find. Water would accummulate in a couple of low spots but after a few months with the grass clippings and pine needles decomposing, this was no longer a problem.

    To help keep the ground dry in the sunny spots, I planted water loving plants. To see an enlarged view, hover your mouse over the image, right click, and then select "Open Image in New Tab."
    The water loving plants in our yard with text indicating what they are

    In the above picture, where the question marks are, I'm not sure if I planted Himalayan Sarcococca there or at the spot where it is labeled. I'm not good with plants. Since then, the Scarletta has died. The Himalayan Sarcococca and the other plant that I confuse with it is growing much too slowly. But the Virginia Sweetspire is doing very well. The Ruby Spice Summersweet is doing fair. The river birch, on the other hand, is growing like a weed. I'm guessing that after nine months, it has grown about three feet! I just have to watch it for vines as they also like it.

    In late October 2012, we had record rains with the passing of Hurricane Sandy. Water came into my house in places it had not come before. But a couple of days after it passed, the spring area had no standing water! As of November 23, 2012, it was still looking good.
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     Third attempt: 2014

    EvaluationOpen accordion icon
    In the latter half of 2013, we got a privacy fence put up around our back yard. Some dirt got put in the section where the spring drains and caused the water to flow more slowly. After several big rains, the spring could not drain fast enough and instead, it started to flow on the north side of the berm in the spring of 2014. The original goal was to keep it all on the south side. I am not absolutely certain that this is the reason but I believe it to be true.

    I removed a lot of rip rap and dug out the trench. I also tried to clear some debris so the water on the north side of the berm could drain. Water is flowing nicely but it is still accummulating where I don't want.

    When digging, I found a crayfish. Its body is about four inches long. I often find their volcano-shaped homes but I rarely see them.
    1 / 2
    Crayfish on the ground
    On ground.
    2 / 2
    Holding a crayfish
    Holding in my hand.

    By the summer of 2014, our Norway Spruce tree nearest the source of the spring had died...almost surely from excessive water. I had Fletch (a former Marine that owns a tree trimming company) come out to cut it down.
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    More rip rap and fill dirtOpen accordion icon
    In October 2014, the water level had dropped enough so I could work on a solution. I made some calls to compare prices for fill dirt and rip rap. Prices really went up from 2011. I was getting less than half as much stuff but paying about the same. Note that the below prices include delivery to Savage.
  • All Landscape Supply: Based out of Sykesville. Call 410-552-5111. Four tons of 7-14" rip rap: $374.40. Eight cubic yards of fill dirt (~12 tons): $326.56.
  • Patuxent Companies - Crofton Aggregate: Call 410-793-0503. Four tons of 8-12" rip rap: $425.79. Eight cubic yards of fill dirt (~12 tons): $363.59.
  • Aggtrans: Call 410-766-4242. Four tons of 5-15" (class one) rip rap: $325. Eight cubic yards of fill dirt (~12 tons): $375.

  • One thing I learned about deliveries is that it might be difficult to find a company that is willing to drive over a curb. It can be hard on the trucks. If you want the truck to do as little damage as possible on your lawn, ask for a single axle truck which weighs about 17,000 pounds. A double axle truck weighs 30,000 pounds. The width is about the same but the single axle truck is shorter.

    I ended up going with All Landscape Supply.

    I got permission from my neighbor to have the landscaper dump the material on her dirt driveway which has less power lines overhead. Also, since it is not paved, there is less danger of the falling rip rap doing damage. I also got permission from her to cart the material through her property and into my backyard. This is the shortest path. In requesting this, I pointed out that by keeping the spring less swamp-like, there will be less mosquitoes on her property. Her house is actually closer to the spring than mine.

    I managed to get all 16 tons of material moved on October 18 and 19. Yes, I was pretty sore and tired after but I had an amazing sense of accomplishment.

    I added rip rap and built up the berm to keep the flow of the spring contained. I also added dirt to some low spots to prevent puddling and I added another French drain to divert water from the lowest spot through a 55-foot long above-ground pipe that runs past the trees and into the park.

    On the afternoon of October 21, 2014 I was finished.

    Below is a view looking southwest. This shows the layer of rip rap I added. The French drain is under the gravel.
    View of spring drainage project looking southeast

    Below is a view looking southeast. The berm that holds the rip rap is not sloped as sharply as before. You can see the 55-foot long above-ground pipe I added which connects to the new French drain.
    View of spring drainage project looking southwest

    We had a lot of rain over the next couple of days. A day after it stopped, there was no puddling. But the ground to the northeast of the drainage grate was pretty muddy. I'll wait a few days and see if it is still that way. If it is, I'll just buy a few more bags of drainage rock to extend the rocky area slightly to the north. I just have to be patient. It takes awhile for water to drain away from an area.

    I was hoping to plant some lawn seeds but Lowe's wasn't selling any so I figured I missed the time to plant. I'll have to wait until spring. It hadn't rained for a few days but the French drain was diverting water out into the park.

    All the rip rap, dirt, drainage material, and gravel purchased in October 2014 cost me about $1,000. But if it works in making our backyard less swamp-like and protects our remaining trees, then it was money well spent.

    Sadly, two more of our Norway Spruce trees were deemed soon-to-die by Michael Leibfreid of Bartlett Tree Experts on November 19, 2014. The first that died was closest to the spring. These other two were the next closest. Maybe if I had gotten to work sooner on the spring this year, this might not have happened...or maybe it was inevitable and just a matter of time. They were struck with needle cast fungus, which is common in this area.
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    ConclusionOpen accordion icon
    As of 2023, we only have one Norway spruce tree left and it is not pretty. But our river birch is huge...about as tall as the Norway spruce. This is truly an excellent tree to plant if you have a wet area. I love telling people that when we purchased the river birch, it was small enough to put in my Subaru Impreza. Some of the other vegetation has died off while others have flourished. We planted a corkscrew willow that has done pretty well. But nothing can compare to the river birch.

    We also planted some holly trees that have done o.k. but really haven't grown as fast as we'd like. The plan with them was to provide year-round visual privacy between us and our neighbor but also to help soak up water from the spring year-round.

    I can say without a doubt that our spring is contained and our back yard is not swampy. After a heavy rain, some spots get a little soggy but it is nothing like before.

    What about the French drains? It is hard to say how effective they are since they are buried. I think this section of the yard is hard for a French drain because there is so much debris that runs downhill and clogs them up. But maybe they are still contributing to diverting the water from the spring.

    The rain boxes/barrel are working well. In 2020, I installed PVC pipes from one of the boxes to a well in Norma's big garden.

    The real moneymaker is the rip rap and the dirt berm. The rip rap creates a low area for the water to drain and the berm holds the rip rap in place. I still place organic matter just north of the berm and will continue to do so until it is level with the top of the berm, which is probably never.

    When I find big rocks, have broken cinder blocks, or find bricks, I put them with the rip rap. Some of the rip rap has settled, but after 2014, it really hasn't changed much.

    It took several tries but I finally got it right. I deem this project a success!

    Landscaping solution to dealing with a spring
    Landscaping solution for dealing with a spring, October 21, 2014