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Landscaping & Design/water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.


3 years ago I relocated to DC from the midwest.  For a myriad of reasons, I hate my house and the one redeeming feature was the yard.  UNTIL, last year I started having severe drainage issues.  I have pooled water in a low area of the yard that rarely dries out and my sump pump (in a below grade basement) gushes every 2 minutes on average.  While the water is entertaining for the cat, it does not amuse me.  Every contractor I speak with suggests french drains but I wonder about their viability given that the basement is below grade and the sump pump below the basement.  I need help and a plan!  I've attached a series of photos that I sent to one of the contractors requesting clarification.  If you see anything helpful I'd sure appreciate any help you could give.


French drains can be useful for intercepting water around the perimeter of a house and thus stop it before it gets to the basement. Perhaps that is what the contractor is suggesting.

If the problem is groundwater then a french drain may not be effective since such a drain cannot function below the water table.  Perforated drain pipe is one method to deal with groundwater.  A footing drain around the perimeter of the foundation may be another part of solving the problem,assuming you do not already have such a drain. This type of drain can be used in combination with a FIN drain,which is a permeable board attached to the foundation wall.

You should of course understand what the contractor is proposing to do and what the reasons are for any structures. Your property should be analyzed as a whole to arrive at a satisfactory drainage solution. You say that the pool rarely dries out and that strongly suggests groundwater.  

French drains will reduce the load on the sump pump if the water in question is surface water. You can apply for a permit to attach the sump pump to a storm drain. Such a connection must be installed by a licensed plumber. Other options may include disposing of all or some of the water on your own property by discharing it into a permeable detention area of some type but if the general area contains high groundwater this may not be an option. An underdrainage system connected to some kind of outlet sounds like a better solution. Filling the pooled area in could be an option. A permit is needed to work with any amount of soil over 5 cubic yards. Hauling soil in can be expensive but perhaps the soil could be borrowed from another spot on the site.
Perhaps the water could be pumped out of the pooled area. Having a pump constantly running is not desirable but depending on how much water there is and at what rate it is infiltrating the area,the pump may be able to remove enough water to keep the area dry or simply moist without running constantly. Wind or solar power could reduce the energy costs of such pumping.

I received only one photo. There appears to be a natural swale near the bush to the right of the tree. Perhaps that could be used to some advantage after you get a clear picture of what the exact drainage problem is and obtain a plan of what actions need to be taken. Good luck. Let me know if I can be of further help.

Mark Harshman  

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Design of landscape structures and design of planting arrangements in the landscape. I usually do not answer questions of a horticultural nature or about growing plants or gardening unless they are related to design. I will answer these questions at my discretion. I will answer maintenance questions at my discretion,usually when they are related to design. I am a landscape designer. I am not a contractor or a gardener. Although I will describe how something is built I do not provide detailed installation or construction instructions. Here are example categories of problems I can help you with: Design of residential walks,low walls,low retaining walls,fences,drainage systems,arbors,plant selection,xeriscapes (low water use landscapes),rain garden design,rain water harvesting,permeable paving,sustainable drainage. No advise on an architectural or engineering level. I DO NOT PERFORM ACTUAL DESIGN WORK THROUGH THIS SITE. I only provide suggestions and advice. For more comprehensive help check out my website at:


Landscape concept plan for a 30,000 square feet housing site. Involved site recon by pace measurements and photographs and a site analysis and a site analysis report and recommendations and a preliminary cost estimate. Design elements included canopy trees,shrub cover,accent flowers,trash receptacles,benches and planters. Landscape concept plan for a 7,000 square feet site for a community center. Involved site recon by tape measurements and photographs,a site analysis and the creation of 3 conceptual designs for the site. Work was done through a local professional design center. Design elements included tree garden,playground,sitting area,lawn,cooking area,lighting and concrete and brick paving. Landscape concept plan for a 3,000 square feet housing site. Involved site recon by tape measurements and photographs and a site analysis. Concluded in 3 concept designs for the site,shown at a formal presentation,a site analysis and recommendations. Work was done through a community volunteer program. Design elements included decks,a playground and fencing. Briefly as draftsman for landscape designer/gardener. Conceptual landscape design for residence. Involved site recon by tape and pace measurements and site analysis. Design included covered patio area,ground cover and flower beds. Two years experience as draftsman for transportation department in engineering firm and for engineering consultants to phone company. Duties consisted of plotting topography. Survey crew member. General assistant to surveyor. Work was done for U.S. Army and County Highway Department. No instrument work. Duties included tape measurement,holding graduated survey rod and plumb bob for sighting and clearing brush. Marketed Landscape Design Services. Brochure writing,promotional material and marketing graphics.

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From Civil Engineer: I am very impressed with your work and with the obvious thought you have put into the marketing of your venture. It was especially good to see a print of that job we discussed on the phone. I wish you much luck with the venture as I do with your plans for school. Im darn proud of you buddy. And by the way,when I get my license,maybe you will consider me for a consulting job down the road. I hope to get together with Rick sometime soon and I would really like to show him your stuff if its ok with you. From all these questions you ask I get the feeling that you are genuinely interested and have put alot of thought into the idea and process of landscape architecture and if you could possibly afford the cost I would urge you to take some classes in the areas you are most interested in. The subject is not so simple as it appears,mixing science and engineering with art and a certain amount of religion to create a comfortable and pleasing balance between man and nature. A thoughtful soul like yours can do this but it can be a lifes work getting it right.

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