Low pH, GH & KH very high

Discussion in 'Water Changes' started by NNanda, Jan 2, 2015.

  1. NNanda

    NNandaNew MemberMember

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    Although I have successfully kept a number of different freshwater species over the years, including brackish water species. Now, I am suddenly killing fish and am sure that it is a water issue.
    I had 3 fancy tail comets that had grown from feeders to 5" in length. Over the past two years they summered outside in a large sunken bowl with a good pump and a homemade waterfall with filter media. This year I brought them in again for the winter and returned them to a conditioned 30 gallon tank. I installed a larger filter (90 gallons) and they were doing fine with 25% water changes every 7-10 days. After the last water change they went from looking great, to dying overnight. I always use a dedicated bucket to haul water from the bathroom and I add API's Stress Coat Plus. After losing these three, I waited a couple of weeks vacuumed and did a partial water change and bought 3 small feeder comets.
    The new comets were all very healthy looking when I got them. I floated the bag and added some aquarium water gradually before releasing them. Within 8 hours, they were all dead. I suppose I should have checked chemistry before adding the new fish, but I was certain that the nitrites etc, were fine. After removing the 3 small comets, My GH is registering 180 and KH 0 and the pH is 6.0. NO2 is 0 and NO3 between 0-10. My tap water is very hard and sometimes slightly acidic. Out of the tap it reads KH120, GH180 and pH 6.5 - 7.
    It is very difficult to raise the pH in the tank. I am concerned that the GH is so high and worry that if I add coral or shells to correct carbonate hardness, the GH may be worse. Should I consider using some bottle water for water changes?
    What can I do to avoid this?
    Thanks, Nancy
     
  2. dcutl002

    dcutl002Well Known MemberMember

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  3. toosie

    toosieFishlore VIPMember

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    Welcome to Fishlore!

    Carbon dioxide is often trapped in water when it is first run from the tap and will cause a lower pH. To determine the true pH of your tap water, you need to set some water aside in a bowl or glass for 24 hours so it can release the carbon dioxide and come into balance with the surrounding environment. Usually water that is run from the tap and tested, will test a lower pH than after it has been sitting. The amount the pH increases is in direct relation to the amount of CO2 that was present. A small amount of CO2 won't decrease pH as much as larger amounts, so, while the pH when first tested might be at 7ppm, after 24 hours it could very well be at 7.6 or even higher.

    With 120ppm of KH present in your tap water, there should be enough buffering capacity to keep pH stable. So the question is, what is happening to your KH? Set some water aside for 24 hours (not in the tank) and test GH, KH and pH after that amount of time has passed. This will help us determine if something is happening in the water whether it is in the fish tank or not. If after 24 hours, GH is still at 180ppm and KH is still at 120, we will know that there is something happening to the water after it reaches the tank.

    KH is sometimes referred to as temporary hardness. This is because KH can be lowered by boiling water, plant uptake (they use it as a carbon source), or from the buffering of acids. Do you maybe have a lot of duckweed, or other types of plants in the tank?

    I would have to say that it is likely the fish slowly became accustomed to the dropping KH/pH, and with the tank at such a low pH, when you did your your water change and introduced water higher in KH and pH, the fish suffered from osmotic shock. Their bodies weren't prepared for such a drastic change in water chemistry.

    It's hard to say if there was enough waste in the tank to keep it cycled for the 3 week period between the old goldfish and these newer ones. You could potentially have ammonia and/or nitrites develop to cause their death, or these fish too could have suffered from osmotic shock because of too drastic of a change from store to tank.
     
  4. OP
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    NNanda

    NNandaNew MemberMember

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    Tested today, 2 days after the 3 died and it was 0.5 ppm
     
  5. OP
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    NNanda

    NNandaNew MemberMember

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    Thanks for the long reply, toosie.
    I did as you said: let tap water stand overnight and it read
    0 - NO3
    0 - NO2
    7 - pH
    80 - KH
    180 - GH

    Took another reading on the tank this am (have done nothing since the 3 comets died).

    80 - NO3
    0 - NO2
    6 - pH
    0 - KH
    180 (or more, it was really dark blue) - GH
    Ammonia tested today at 0.5ppm
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2015
  6. toosie

    toosieFishlore VIPMember

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    I'm sorry my reply was long. I'll try to keep this one shorter, but I'm afraid I may fail. :(

    Judging by these tests, I think it is safe to say the old goldfish died due to osmotic imbalances created during the water change when the new water with a pH of 7 was mixed with the tank water which had a pH of 6 or below. I never asked what product you are using to test this tank, but if it's a liquid test kit like the API test kit, the lowest reading on the card is 6. This means your water could have been much lower than that even.

    Goldfish are not accustomed generally to this low of a pH. It was likely already messing with their osmotic system, but when the new water mixed into the tank suddenly raising the pH, their osmotic system failed.

    By the time the new goldfish were introduced into the tank, the pH would have been back down to 6 or lower, and this extreme drop in water chemistry from what they were use to, was not something their systems could handle either.

    Your KH drops from 120ppm out of the tap, to 80ppm just sitting. That's a pretty large decrease. I'd be interested to see if the level continued to drop if the sample was tested in another day or two. If it continues to drop, you may need to buffer the KH. If it doesn't continue to drop, you should have enough KH to keep pH stable with good tank maintenance.

    Goldfish are huge waste producers. This means a lot of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are formed. Although once the tank is cycled, you can no longer observe the formation of the first two nitrogen products with our testing equipment, they still happen and the result we observe to know it happens are the nitrates. The nitrification process creates acids. These acids are buffered by KH. KH helps protect pH and keep it stable due to it's ability to buffer the acids. Without KH, pH doesn't stand much of a chance. When KH buffers the acids, ( in many tanks, there are more sources of acid than just what is due to the nitrogen cycle for them to buffer) KH slowly gets used up. This leads to a vulnerable pH. A pH crash is devastating to fish, unless it is caught in time and steps are taken to slowly increase KH which in turn will help to increase pH.

    The reason I've gone into this explanation is because I don't want you to think you can no longer keep fish with your source of water. On the contrary. Unless the sample of water continues a drop in KH over the next day or two, you have enough KH to keep healthy fish. It may mean you need to do more frequent water changes of larger amounts to keep nitrates low, so you know acids aren't accumulating in the tank enough to harm your KH and pH, but frequent large water changes are good for fish, when water chemistry hasn't been allowed to become too different. Goldfish and other large waste producers can sometimes be more work to keep this from happening, but they are very much worth the effort.

    The 80ppm nitrate you've tested in your tank, tells me the acids that have consumed your KH are likely the result of the ongoing nitrogen cycle. I don't know if you have taken the opportunity to test for nitrates in your tap water, but I'll suggest you do so. We like to try to keep nitrates under 20ppm in our aquariums when possible but if nitrates are present in your tap water it might not be possible to do through water changes alone.

    You currently have some ammonia which would indicate the beneficial bacteria aren't functioning. This will likely be due to your low pH in the tank. Beneficial Bacteria tend to become dormant when pH drops below 6ppm. So, some of the first things you'll want to do before you buy more fish, is.... do a HUGE water change or maybe even two or three. You want to replenish your KH, increase your pH, and dilute the acids and nitrates to a level under 20ppm preferably. Then, you can choose a way to re-cycle the tank. Your bacteria need to be woken up. They haven't died, but they will need time before they are able to handle a fish load again. To wake them up, after the water changes are all done, you will need to supply them with an ammonia source. Track the ammonia and nitrites and when they both read 0 and the only thing you get test results for is nitrates, your tank will be cycled again.

    There are methods of fishless cycling. I don't know if you are familiar with them, but if you need info, let us know. There is also a product called TSS to help with fish-in cycling which we can also link you to if you are interested in learning more about it.

    See.... I knew I'd fail. Just not sure how to sum this up shorter for you. But, if anything doesn't make sense to you, please feel free to ask questions.
     
  7. OP
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    NNanda

    NNandaNew MemberMember

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    Absolutely no complaint about a long answer - I am delighted that you would take so much time to try and help me.
    I still have the tap water sample from 2 days ago, and I tested it again with the API 5 in 1 test strip. Today's readings are:
    0 NO3
    0 NO2
    7.5 pH
    120 KH
    180 GH

    Just before the large goldies got sick and died, I had done a water change and a day later, changed the filter media. I am running a large (75gallon) Aqueon filter with two media pads and a small in tank UV filter. The Aqueon filter is new - I used Hagen for years but was unable to get one when mine suddenly died. The new Aqueon is larger in capacity than what I was running previously in this 29 long tank without problems.

    Should I consider a different filter that would permit bio media like balls? My outdoor bowl (approx. 180 gallons)where these guys lived over the last two summers, had a sponge, two layers of floss(different micron), two carbon sacks, bio balls and ceramic noodles. I also had water hyacinths and a frog spitter (see photo). Had one brief problem outdoors in extreme heat, but recognized it immediately as dropsy and pulled out the sick fish and treated with epson salt indoors and did daily cold water changes for a week outside. The epson salt cured the sick guy overnight.

    I am reading pH on test strips and ammonia with a liquid kit.

    No problem doing more frequent changes and waiting on new fish. When I get new ones they will be small feeder size.

    How often should I do water changes for large fish?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 23, 2018
  8. toosie

    toosieFishlore VIPMember

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    I figure the better I can explain something fully, the more chance the people I'm helping have of understanding what went wrong so they can prevent these same things from happening in the future, so I feel it is worth my time. Unfortunately, I also know that too long of an explanation can boggle minds and lose the message I'm trying to convey. It's a balancing act that I sometimes fall off of.

    Nice to see your numbers have remained the same. That is very good news.


    Yeah... HOB's with the cartridge filters present problems to aquarists. They really don't hold enough filter media for a good bacterial colony. And, by the sounds, such as in your case, these cartridges are often replaced which means the vast majority of the available beneficial bacteria is now in the garbage, and the tank has to re-cycle to rebuild the bacterial colony. If the filter has two cartridges, changing one at a time helps, but it still leaves the tank more vulnerable to spikes in ammonia and nitrite.

    When taking care of large waste producers, more media is always better. You have a good flow rate because I think this tank is a 30 gallon? and you have 400 gph of flow. Thats over the 10 x the tank volume that I recommend, which is great! The lack of media is something I would consider a problem.

    Is there room behind the cartridges for a bag of bio-max? If there is, and you want to continue to use this filter, I would put bio-max behind the filters. I would also start buying "Cut to fit" filter media. (There are other options too) I would remove the carbon portion and place a cut to fit activated carbon pad into the portion of the filter closest to the tank. This leaves you the option of just rinsing the polyfiber padding instead of replacing it. It should really only be replaced when it is falling apart. Rinsing this padding can prove a little challenging for some so they do tend to get replaced more often to prevent the filter unit from overflowing and bypassing the media. When it has to be changed, only change one at a time. If you then remove the padding from the plastic frame of the cartridge, you can use polyfiber cut to fit media in it's place, allowing the plastic frame and water pressure to keep it in place. This makes it much easier to rinse the media when you need to, without losing the beneficial bacteria. It also allows you to replace activated carbon monthly, (if you choose to use carbon, it's not a must except after medicating) without harming your tank by throwing out the whole cartridge just so the carbon can be replace.

    If you choose to replace the filter unit, AquaClear 70, or better yet because this is a goldie tank, an AquaClear 110 will hold enough media and the foams are pretty easy to squeeze, smack (to get out gunk) and rinse.

    A canister filter would also be a great option because of the amount of media they can hold.


    This is one thing I will strongly encourage you to change. Somewhere on the forum here (a few years back) is a thread where fellow fishlorians and I chose to test the accuracy of strips compared to liquid. There is no comparison. Strips are just too inaccurate. So, for your GH/KH, pH, as well as the nitrogen product ones, (which you have) should all be liquid tests. The numbers are just too important to trust strips with. I can try to find that thread if you like, but it might have been a bit of a highjack, so I don't know if it will come up in a search.

    I recommend weekly 50% minimum water changes for all tanks. This helps to keep all the good stuff in balance, and is usually enough to keep the bad stuff from building out of control. If nitrates can't be kept down to below 20ppm with these changes, then I would do 50% or more, twice a week or increase the amount changed to 80%. I use nitrates as a bit of an indicator as to how much other undesired stuff like acids and toxins may be building. If they are building too quickly, then odds are good, some of the good stuff is getting depleted too. Water changes fix it all.

    This is a very pretty pic. How big is the pond?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 23, 2018
  9. OP
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    NNanda

    NNandaNew MemberMember

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    Thanks Toosie, these are all really helpful ideas. I really was skeptical about the Aqueon filter pads which have carbon and floss, so I am going with your ideas and incorporating my own filter media and hopefully, something like ceramic noodles. When I had the Hagen filter it was great because I never replaced the sponge(just flushed it out) and I never did anything with the noodles unless they had alot of algae or gunk. So I think I will try to revamp the Aqueon filter, and if that doesn't work well enough, I will go with the cannister. I will also get an all liquid master test kit.

    The outside pool in the photo is approximately 180 gallons. It is a huge high quality flower pot that I dug a big hole and sunk. I also dug a pit next to it and this has an inline pump that is 150gallons. The pump siphons the big bowl and returns the water via an overflow waterfall box that contains lots of media: sponge, floss, carbon, bio balls and ceramic noodles. I only replace the carbon, and just flush the others if really gunky. A small submersible pump runs the frog spitter. I keep water hyacinths to protect from early day sun. These grow so much that I have to keep thinning them and tossing them out. I also use a small bag of barley straw to keep the bowl free of algae.

    Thanks again for all of your help. You have given me confidence to correct this problem
    Nancy
     
  10. toosie

    toosieFishlore VIPMember

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    That is a great setup! You put a lot of work into it. Very, very nice.

    You'll do great, I have no doubt what-so-ever. :) and we are all just a shout away if you need more help. Plus good job ordering the liquid test kit. I promise you, you will not regret it!
     
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