You know, I was thinking, and maybe Mike can chime in on this one, but have you thought about using blend-shapes?
It would be time consuming, but if you are going for realism, this might give you an easier shot?
You could create a nurbs curve along the side profile of the "effect" that defines the shape in its' "outer-most" sploosh position, then make that shape your base shape.
Then, you could use Mayas modifiers, vertice tweaks, etc, to squish the shape back down to look closer to the "calmer" surface using the same geometry, and make that another blend.
Then, using that blend shape animation, add a wave or sine deformer to give the needed rough and calm ripples as it animates.
Then, shade your water geometry with an ocean shader, or whatever you got for water, and animate it to look like it is rippling, and moving as the blend happens
Then, make your surface an emitter, and rock on with some blobbies, point-type wisps, etc. coming off of the surface to add depth and more realism.
NOW, the hard part:
*Connect a SDK to the value of one blend to the value of the emitter, AND the magnitude/position values of any fields you might have etc.
NOTE, remember that you CAN use your water surface as a SOURCE of a field, so use that to your advantage!
Israel "Izzy" Long
Motion and Title Design for Broadcast-Film-DS