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Ponds Nicely done

Does sitting by a babbling brook fed by a waterfall sound good to you? Can you imagine stretching out in a lounge chair next to a gurgling pond as Koi frolic amid water lilies and cattails right outside your own back door? If so, Bob Nicely of Sierra Water Wonders can make this backyard dream come true.

Nicely, a northern Michigan native grew up around lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. As a youngster, he was inspired by nature and the beauty of the countryside and determined early on that, wherever he lived, he would create a water feature to bring back the beauty of his childhood.

As an adult, Nicely worked as a manufacturer’s rep, selling decorative plumbing and electrical supplies. And everywhere he lived, when his work week was done, he could be found outside recreating the waterfalls, ponds and streams of his Michigan boyhood in his own backyard. Soon, he was creating beautiful ponds for friends as well.



In 1998, Nicely sold his rep business and he and his wife, Roxy, moved up to Grass Valley from the Bay Area. At first, retirement seemed like heaven. But soon, sitting around all day lost its luster. “I knew I was starting to drive Roxy crazy,” Nicely said. “She said, ‘Bob, I think you ought to think of something to do!’ I asked myself, what I liked to do and the answer was, What I had always done – build ponds and waterfalls.”

Nicely spent a year and a half clearing his five-acre property, shaping the landscape and building three ponds, waterfalls and a stream. Then, further inspired by his study of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater, and the beauty of the Sierra Nevada foothills, he took the leap.




In 2000, he participated in the Union’s Home and Garden Show at the fairgrounds, building a display of waterfall and pond. His display generated major buzz and resulted in his first 10 jobs as a professional water feature builder.

From there, word of mouth carried Sierra Water Wonders forward. Nicely now creates from 10 to 12 ponds a year and has completed about 50, picking and choosing the jobs he takes on from the requests he receives. At 65, Nicely intends to continue to create magical backyard water features as long as he can move!

Nicely and two helpers take about five days to create a pond. His lead-time is two to three weeks. Although an upslope for the waterfall is helpful, it is not necessary, says Nicely. The soil that is dug to make the pond can be used, along with artistically placed rocks, to create a hill for water to course down.

Have only a small area or live in a mobile home? That’s no problem either, says Nicely. He has built quite a number of very small water features whose sole purpose is to mask other sounds, such as traffic.

Worried about the safety of ponds with children around? That’s easy, says Nicely. He’ll create a waterfall cascading over rocks with no pond at all. And to make sure pond owners enjoy his water features at night as much as they do during the day, Nicely always installs one or two underwater pond lights and a spotlight on the waterfalls.

Nicely, who doesn’t pre-design but works with each individual client’s needs and ideas as he goes, says freedom from day-to-day maintenance makes a water feature even more enjoyable. The water recirculates via a pump, cleaning itself, and a hidden basket skims tree and other plant debris for those worried about overhanging limbs and foliage.

There are no chemicals. Natural bacteria are introduced to keep the water clear of algae, resulting in ponds that are people, fish and plant friendly. Nicely services his customer’s water features twice a year. “I never desert my ponds,” he says. “I’m there for life and visit them and their owners!”

After this long winter, should a pond owner worry about the effects of cold and snow? “Absolutely not,” says Nicely. “I built a water feature up in Truckee. The pond freezes solid on top, but the water continues to circulate via the waterfall and underneath the pond. And, it doesn’t hurt the Koi either. They go to the bottom of the pond and hibernate until spring.”

Based on time and material, the cost for an open pond, one stream and a waterfall is around $8,000. Nicely’s water features generally run from $4,000 to $10,000, depending on access to the site and cost of materials.

Of course, a pond is so much more than a skimmer, a liner, rocks, gravel and filter. When created by an artist such as Bob Nicely, a pond is a peaceful, pleasure-filled world, a symphony of shimmer and ripple that calls up memories and the feelings that come with them. It is, says Nicely, the perfect combination of nature, engineering, beauty and art.

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For a consultation, site evaluation and cost estimate, or just to talk about ponds, contact Bob Nicely at Sierra Water Wonders, 477-8878.


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