The @#&*+$% Waterfall Pump is Clogged Again!

It creeps upon me like a slow death, void of meaning or romance. From my bedside I can hear the daily lessening of its once mighty cry as it slowly dies. A single tear forms in the corner of my tired eye as I realize in the dreamy state that something is terribly wrong. The deafening roar of water that once dominated my senses begins to weaken to a soft purr of drip-drop failure.

My failure. My shame.

My waterfall pump.

Waterfall Pump Clog 01b_A clogged up water feature dripping away

Were I a better man, I would have cleaned out its sterile, dwarfed and paltry mini micro filter daily. But I didn’t. Because it’s @#&*+$% God-awful annoying to do that. I curse the pump filter demons that have taken hold of my once amazing water feature! Just look at this pathetic thing; after three solid days of “work” it’s all gummed up.

Waterfall Pump Clog 01_Useless mini filter that comes with the pump
“Hi, my name is Useless the Blob. Can I get you some failure or misery?”

Okay, I feel better now. Sorry about that. But seriously, maintaining a custom, hand-crafted, multi-level double waterfall with upper and lower ponds running 24/7, enclosing a rambling brook through the willows, requires the most attention of any landscaping project I’ve ever been involved with. That includes the time I dug the entire Panama Canal that one weekend in the nineteen aughts.

But it is home to fish and other benthic organisms and has countless daily visits by every bird in a six mile radius. I want it running constantly for them. I also want it on 24/7 for me because I want to be fooled into thinking there’s an actual waterfall/stream/ponds in my backyard. It also serves to supply my young willow tree with all the water she can drink.

The maintenance goes on and on: from random leaks and misdirected flow from overturned rocks caused by overzealous chickens in search of buggy yum yums, the regular trenching of fetid swamp slime from gloomy depths, keeping algae and green water at bay without using chemicals so my dog can drink the water, all the way to the @#&*+$% pump getting clogged up weekly! Mother @#&*+$% @#&* eating son of a @#&*+.

There I go again. Sorry. Breathe.

Too many depletives (deleted expletives). Okay, here’s the real deal with water features and your (and my) unreasonable demands. Most likely you’re using a fountain pump for a feature this size. A pump made for clear and sterile chemical baths that have some H2O sprinkled about. Trying to use this particular pump for a pond teeming with life and sediment, instead of for a fountain, is foolish. But that’s what I bought, and if you’re here, chances are that that’s what you have too. It’s just more cost effective with smaller water features to use one of these cheaper and simpler pumps. But don’t dismay, there is a solution!

I’m going to share with you, brave reader, how you can turn that bi-weekly chore into a bi-annual one! It will cost you the whopping sum of $4 initial investment and $2 bi-annually. Interested? I know I am. I’m obsessed with water feature solutions. I’m riddled with awe and absorb functional and natural problem-solving techniques like a sponge.

Which brings me to my secret: the scrubby sponge. Or pot scrubber. Whatever you call it, it’s the cheap plastic sponges found in any dollar store worth its ilk.

Waterfall Pump Clog 02b_Dollar Store Plastic Pot Scrubbers
All of life’s problems can be solved with items found in dollar stores.
Waterfall Pump Clog 02_Dollar Store Plastic Pot Scrubbers
99¢ worth of solution! The mighty pot scrubber!

These cheaply made plastic whatsits make for a perfect filtration device! They’ll last you about six months and then will have to be replaced. I’ve tried to clean them out and reuse them, but they seem to get clogged up much sooner if you do that. I think that it’s too much of a closed cell system to properly clean out. For another $2, just do yourself the favor of buying some fresh ones and toss the old ones.

You’ll also need some device to hold your pump and the scrubbers all together. Guess what, you can also find this in the dollar store! Two plastic strainers, colanders, or mesh storage bins work perfectly. I bought two storage bins because they were the perfect size and were also black so they’d be more hidden beneath the roaring waves of my mighty waterfall. They look like this…

Waterfall Pump Clog 03_Plastic Mesh Sorting Bins
El cheapo organizing/storage bins.

Whatever product you buy, you’ll need to drill a hole in one of them to accommodate the pump hose and electrical cord. Not to state the obvious, but make certain that it’s made of plastic so as not to rust or change the pH levels of your water! You knew that already right? Good! You’re so smart! Also, you’ll be sandwiching them together and you’ll want to fasten them in some form or fashion. The fastener should be made out of something non-ferrous as well. I use bonsai wire made out of aluminum because I have it on hand, but a rubber band will work just as well. Keep it simple and cheap so you can retain the most pride and awesomeness.

Next, you’ll line the bottom bin with the pot scrubbers to create a lovely and cozy little cradle for your pump.

Waterfall Pump Clog 04_Waterfall pump nestled into pot scrubbers
A cozy little bed for my sensitive pump. A perfect fit!
Waterfall Pump Clog 05_Plastic Mesh Sorting Bins with pot scrubbers
A test fit to make sure that all water will pass through the pot scrubbers from all sides.

Once my test fit was done, I inserted the hose through the receiving hole I drilled out of the makeshift lid. I placed the power cord out of the side because it was already well buried under rocks and I didn’t want to “thread” it through this hole.

Waterfall Pump Clog 05b_Plastic Mesh Sorting Bin Lid with hole in Top for Hose
With the hose in place, it’s ready to get reattached to the pump.
Waterfall Pump Clog 06_Detail of Plastic Mesh Sorting Bins and pot scrubbers
Hose attached and scrubbers nestled!
Waterfall Pump Clog 07_Waterfall filter set up before locking the lid
All ready to close her up!

Once you new filter setup is ready to go, you’ll want to keep it together somehow. Just don’t make it too complicated as it will only add steps when you change it out in six months. As I mentioned, non-ferrous metal wire or rubber bands will be the easiest thing to use.

Waterfall Pump Clog 09_Waterfall Filter system tied shut with aluminum wire detail
Simple yet effective!
Waterfall Pump Clog 08_Waterfall Filter system tied shut with aluminum wire
Voila! Ready to submerge. See you in six months sucker! Also, hi little fishy!

Place the pump as far as you can from the waterfall for the best circulation. You can also put an easy-to-move rock on top of it to weigh it down as well as hide it. Just do yourself a favor and keep it accessible. Also, the deeper you submerge it, the longer you can run the water feature between refills. Here’s my hiding spot before I topped off the pond.

Waterfall Pump Clog 10_Waterfall Filter system hidden under a rock
Now you see me, now you don’t. Once the pond is filled up, all you really see is the smaller stone on top.

Well folks, it doesn’t get any easier than that! This setup should last you for about six months before you have to deal with it again. Even then, it’s only another $2 to get two packs of pot scrubbers and a few minutes to change them out. A HUGE difference from bi-weekly filter cleanings. If you don’t wish to invest in a whole elaborate filtration system, this is the next best thing! And now I feel much calmer and can get back to more enjoyable gardening tasks. Here are my waterfalls both going at maximum volume. Nothing beats the sound of moving water, and the birds have returned to bathe and sing (and eat all my grapes). Such an oasis I have now in place of the desert wasteland this yard was three years ago.

Waterfall Pump Clog 11_Waterfall up and running perfectly
Upper and lower waterfalls and ponds with secret babbling brook under the low branches of the willow tree.


26 Replies to “The @#&*+$% Waterfall Pump is Clogged Again!”

    1. Thanks Derrick. This is the third time I’ve done it. So it’s been working amazingly well for the past year! Tried and tested!

      Do you have a water feature in your landscaping? If you have any secrets or tips, I’d love to hear about them.

      1. Afraid not. Our garden once had one, but it was filled in and planted over long ago. We did find a small Water Boy feature buried in the jungle we bought. We found the concrete shell on which the boy sits elsewhere, put it together and bought a circulating pump. At least we have tinkling water – nothing whatever like yours

        1. There’s nothing like the sound of moving water to soothe the soul, no matter the size. It’s also a great way to give birds and butterflies a place to drink, dance and sing!

          For me, you can add the occasional dog or small child to the mix. Both seem to love jumping right into the cool water. Much to my dismay.

          1. Truth be told, I may have dipped my feet in there for non-maintenance related recreation. Just don’t tell my dog that, she’d be very cross.

  1. I think this is a pretty good idea. I do use this type pump vs. “fountain” pump. I flat removed the internal pump filter from mine and just spray out the pump every few weeks , but this looks like it may be worth the investment. I don’t have fish in my pond as we just use it to grow duck weed for the aquaponics fish and other animals. It is very tough to grow duckweed in a pond with fish. Thanks for the idea!

    1. I have a hard time growing plants in that pond. I’ve always thought it was from too much direct sun or the pH being off (I never check it though). I wonder if the fish are the cause. Do they simply nibble too much?

      1. In some cases that could be true, but I never had much problem with fish and plants like water lettuce or the ornamental grasses. I removed the fish when I wanted to start growing a large amount of duckweed. Duckweed is very prolific (doubles every seven days) and high in protein, but all fish love it so they had to go. My chickens love dried duckweed, so each time the pond is full, I pull half, put it in the solar dryer, then send it as a treat to the chickens.

    1. That depends on what type of feature you want. Ponds tend to bog down smaller pumps like mine because it was made for a fountain, not a pond.

      If you want a fountain, then the smaller pumps with hardly any filtration will suffice. Provided you keep the water clean and clear with nasty chemicals or change the water regularly.

      So first tell me what your looking to do and then I can help steer you in the right direction. I’m no expert, but I’ve definitely hit about every pitfall thus far so I may be of some help.

  2. Another good idea! I have been using a slightly different idea I found last year and worked great also. Much the same, but I wrap the plastic milk crate that holds my pump with quilt batting and use bungee cords to hold in place. It is white, but not for long. It soon blends in and works great as a filter for 6 months or so each season. I love it!

    1. An excellent strategy Julie! My next challenge is how to clean up all the sediment on the bottom. I’ve tried a hose and gravity feed, but it takes forever. I just don’t want to hurt the fish at all either. Do you have any tips on how to vacuum a pond? Such a chore this beast is…

    1. About eight months ago I got fed up with having to clean out all the filters so I removed everything and just let the pump sink or swim on its own. The damn thing has been running smoothly ever since. Go figure.

  3. James. I do not know much about waterfall pumps. Actually, that’s not true. After reading your blog I think I know some rather pragmatic things about waterfall pumps. My issues are a bit different. I want to keep stock tanks from freezing so my yaks can get the water they need. Circulating water will not freeze, but I was very concerned about the clogging of a pump as so many had expressed this problem. Your blog helped tremendously. More that that, it was a pleasure to read. You are a very gifted writer. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Ah Grant, this is very kind of you to say. I thank you wholeheartedly. Frozen yak water eh!? If I had a nickel for every time someone expressed issues with frozen yak water…I’d have a nickel!

      I assume you’ve tried the bottles of salt water trick? I’m not sure how successful that technique is. I do know that salt water doesn’t freeze above 28 degrees, but it may be even colder than that where you are. I’m basing this off of two things, “snowcliff ranch” and, well, yaks. Seems like a cold locale to me.

      I’m also assuming that running a pump is slightly less costly in kilowatt hours than running a water heater element. Did you look into that?

      If you do go with a pump, I can’t imagine there being a tremendous amount of clogging elements during the winter. Yak hair maybe? Regardless, pumps are cheap at Harbor Freight if you do clog one up.

      Here’s a secret about this article and its subsequent methodology…I just removed ALL the filters about two years ago. And it hasn’t slowed down one little bit. I decided, “why bother with these twice annual changeouts. It’s a $27 pump, if it clogs, I’ll just replace it.”

      Two years man! Not a single clog. Point being, maybe you can just wing it and see how it does?

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  4. I know I’m a few years late, but i have a question about your setup. Did you keep the little square filter that came with the pump when putting this together? I followed your directions and your design, but it seems to be clogging the intake of water. Though it hasnt clogged, its still just a trickle.

    1. Hi Josiah, sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I was on vacation. About a year after writing this, I got frustrated with the entire setup and in a fit of anger removed all filters. I figured if it kills the pump then so be it.

      That was about two years ago and the pump hasn’t clogged since. I’m not saying it’ll work in every scenario, but with my setup it did. Less is more somehow?

  5. James, you have the most epic and amazing pond setup I have ever seen. And I have seen quite a few. Thank you for the tips.

    1. Oh my, that’s very kind of you Dustin. It’s okay for a backyard set up, but I’d really love one day to build something by diverting a little creek. Like that amazing Frank Loyd Wright house with the stream running through it. Been in love with that house since I was a little kid.

      By the way, I’m not sure of you read the comment stream here, but I’ve since updated my filter system based on the principles that less is more.

      Thank you for your kind words here good sir. Cheers!

  6. I feel your pain is an understatement. We inherited a koi pond with the house we bought 5 years ago. I put up with it the first 2-3 years…threw in the towel…wife took over and did a decent job but it’s been like a vampire slowly sucking the life out of her too. It’s like every day something new happens…and it’s why winter has become my favorite season…it’s the only time of year the pond doesn’t need attention every_single_day. The skimmer box clogging the waterfall line lasts a few hours at best and is by far the most annoying maintenance task. If I had a bulldozer…I’d relocate the koi, say to hell with the mosquito fish and fill that sucker in.

    1. Hahaha. I so appreciate your frustration! But you know, since writing this article some years back, my waterfall has needed zero maintenance for years. I upgraded my pump and added one single water lily and now the water runs clear and the pump never clogs. It’s been running solid for years now!

      But it definitely took some time to find that proper balance!

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