Test the Waters


Aquatic Consultants finds its niche in the landscaping industry

Water – its beauty, usefulness and increasing rarity make it a special feature in many landscape situations. One New Mexico company has taken those qualities to the bank by designing, installing and managing water projects on properties ranging from private residences to public parks.

Projects built by Aquatic Consultants, headquartered in Albuquerque, show the ingenuity and variety that can be achieved through the judicious use of water via lakes, streams and ponds. Paul Cassidy, the company’s founder and president, can take any property to the next level and solve a lot of problems, all through the creative use of water. As the former senior fisheries biologist for the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, Cassidy even undertakes the creation of trophy fisheries.

Construction has become a major part of the company’s portfolio.
Construction has become a major part of the company’s portfolio.

“I did a lot of what I do now,” he says of his former work for the state, which is creating and managing waters on public and private properties. A glance at the company’s website, www.aquaticconsultants.com, shows the variety of jobs it has completed, as well as the range of uses for water. It can be beautiful and practical, as well as profitable, to focus on water as a design feature.

Now considered one of the premier water consultants in the western U.S., Cassidy says that while he was working for the game and fish department he realized there was a need in the private sector for what he was doing in the state public sector: creating and managing fisheries. There were a lot of private lakes with vegetation problems, clogged pipes and dying fish; there were also a lot of property owners who wanted to build streams and lakes. He started a construction and management firm, and after he built his first lake, he was off and running. The company now has eight full-time staff and hires many subcontractors.

“Right now, the construction side of the business is the bulk of what we do,” Cassidy says. They work in several states, from Nebraska to Arizona, designing and building. The ultimate goal is to end up managing these often-sensitive habitats. He notes that the company now manages almost 400 lakes.

Basing water designs on the sound biological principles that govern these habitats, Aquatic Consultants also utilizes the modern tenets of conservation to sell its services to clients wanting to adhere to water-saving techniques, as well as state and federal regulations. Some of the company’s best clients are private ranches that want to renovate streams or lakes, and cities or other public entities that want to stop water loss from old pond liners.

Paul Cassidy, a fisheries biologist, started Aquatic Consultants, a New Mexico firm that constructs and manages water facilities.

“A lot of new lining systems are different from what they used to be. Now, most of the liners we use are synthetic,” says Cassidy, pointing out that the old method of lining a pond with clay is more risky. He favors the new PVC liners in particular, with many types on the market to choose from.

Shoreline design around parks and other landscapes is a critical part of the company’s work. Cassidy says that poor shoreline design and planning is common and can lead to heavy water loss, in particular, because of the exposure of liners to the air and subsequent cracking. Turfgrass around the lake can also be damaged if designers do not take into account the management of water levels.

The technologies for many installations have changed over the last decade or so, and that applies to everything from water filters to computer controls to the chemicals used to manage weeds, algae and other lake pests. An expanded aquatic nuisance control industry, as well as research on effective rates, has made modern chemicals available for many of these problems. The company itself is technology oriented, having developed its own proprietary computer software designed to track and facilitate lake management.

“The amount of information we generate is so large,” Cassidy says, that staff could not keep up with the data needed to keep a lake or pond in tip-top condition. The software makes that job easier, and it also can be used to generate required regulatory reports for the various states they operate in. In addition, all field staff carry laptops to manage properties more efficiently, as well as manage construction. Clients can use a password to log on to the company website, where they can view the data.

Hardscapes are a big part of the company’s work, but it is subcontracted out.

Aquatic Consultants does large-scale jobs, such as solving fishery-related issues for the Salt River Project utility in Arizona, and renovating streams, such as the Pecos River, but it also renovates and manages small projects. One Albuquerque Parks pond, for example, needed help in increasing production of mosquito-eating fish. It also does a lot of golf course work, as superintendents are often required to control aquatic vegetation either through chemical or biological means.

A current issue that Aquatic Consultants is tackling is snail control. Snails clog irrigation lines and intakes, creating a mess for turfgrass managers. The company approaches this issue with an initial assessment, follow-up chemical control, and then the introduction of red-eared sunfish to help keep the snails in check over the long term.

The company also does a lot of work for Indian tribes in the Southwest. An example would be the Sandia Lakes north of Albuquerque, where the Sandia Indian Tribe hired Aquatic Consultants to construct a park and commercial fishery on a 56-acre site. That job also included the roads, picnic tables, lawns, restrooms and other hardscapes.

Public and private parks, such as this area on the Sandia Indian reservation, are a significant portion of the work done by Aquatic Consultants of Albuquerque.

Residential work is included in the repertoire. A home on 16 acres in Colorado, for example, required the installation of a fishable trout stream, two cold-water lakes, a warm-water lake, water features, bridges, cutting-edge computer water controllers and a water crossing that varied with the seasons. Aquatic Consultants designed all of this, then hired out the landscaping and hardscape work.

Turfgrass work is all subbed out, Cassidy says. They hire a lot of companies for lawns and practice greens, while Aquatic Consultants provides the water supply. Sometimes they work around existing turf facilities, but often grass is added once the water projects are done.

Acquiring new projects primarily through word-of-mouth, the company has discovered there is a huge amount of work out there waiting to be done, even in the arid Southwest. The variety is almost endless. One lake might require more water exchange in order to reduce algae and weed growth, while a pond might be designed as entertainment for an upscale client. The company also does a lot of lake and stream assessment work prior to the purchase of a property by a client, providing estimates of the cost of renovation as part of the process.

Another use of water in the overheated West, and another source of work for the company, is for fire protection. Cassidy says that isolated properties without a fire department nearby, homes surrounded by forest and properties without water storage facilities often request their services. Ponds can be designed with fire hydrants, and they can also be designed deep enough to allow firefighting helicopters to dip water from them.

In short, this is a dynamic business for a company that hires the right talent and comes to a project with expertise in water and aquatic habitat matters. A background in biology is almost essential because of the amount of ecological expertise required. Cassidy hires employees based on specific needs; for example, chemical applicators must be licensed in the states in which they operate.

The business is also creative and fulfilling. Cassidy says that the unique designs of the private and public waterways he works on are stimulating and profitable. What more could a businessman want?

Don Dale resides in Altadena, Calif., and is a frequent contributor to Turf. He has covered the green industry for more than 10 years.