12-22-2010, 07:05 PM
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If you select African rift lake cichlids, I would increase the hardness (and consequently the pH). While there are "preparations" available, they are expensive long-term and a less expensive but effective way to harden water is with calcareous mineral such as dolomite (if you can find it, this is superb), marble chips or even crushed coral. A substrate of coral would be ideal for instance.
If you decide on SA cichlids, the medium/larger species (actually more Central American/South American) should be fine with what you have, but the dwarfs will be a problem without softer water; the hardness is more critical than the pH, though with soft water the pH will naturally be slightly acidic. Using a mix of tap and rainwater, or tap and RO water, are options. Here again, chemical preparations are expensive and not always safe regardless of what the manufacturer may say.
Once the tank is established, and with say tap/rainwater at first, and with plants and wood (with dwarfs this is essential), the natural chemistry will lower and if the fish load is moderate and balanced with the plants, water changes need be minimal and will not be an issue with maintaining softer, acidic water.