01-17-2012, 02:56 PM
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We often assume our tap water is going to remain consistent with respect to whatever is in it, but as you have found out that is not always the case. Which is where the water conditioner comes in.
I always recommend to beginning aquarists that they first check their tap water for hardness, pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Any of the latter three may be present; there are means of dealing with them. In your situation, a water conditioner that targets ammonia would be a good investment, especially since the ammonia fluctuates. I'll explain how this works momentarily. Not all water conditioner deal with ammonia, but it will say if they do on the label.
Water conditioners detoxify ammonia by changing it to harmless ammonium. Both ammonia and ammonium will test as "ammonia" with our basic test kits, so don't worry over that. And bacteria take up ammonium/ammonia equally, whichever is present, so no harm there. During a water change, there will be an influx of ammonia, so the conditioner handles that. By the time the conditioner wears off, usually in 24-48 hours, the bacteria will have multiplied sufficiently to handle it. So while you may test and see "ammonia" during this, it should be harmless. Observe the fish, and if they are behaving normally, then it is OK.
Live plants in an aquarium help in all this, as they grab ammonium as their preferred source of nitrogen, and they can use ammonia too by changing it to ammonium themselves. Same idea as the bacteria mentioned above. Floating plants are especially useful, as they are fast growing which means they use even more ammonia/ammonium.
I would be more concerned with the pH fluctuation, if I am correct that your tap water pH has changed from 7.6 to 8.4. Some fish--livebearers, rift lake cichlids, and other hard water species--will have no issue with this, but some soft water species might. I'll leave this for the present, but feel free to question.
Hope this helps you.