Severe Water Issues: Low pH & Alkalinity, high Hardness
I'm having some very frightening water issues and I don't know how to fix them. Let me give some background on the situation:
I have a 7.9gal Fluval Ebi Nano tank that houses one male betta. It is semi-planted (three live plants, but at the moment I don't remember their species). It has a heater, a filter, and a bubbler. The water temp stays pretty stable at 77-78 F.
I do semi-regular water changes with aged tapwater. I condition the water with either AmQuel Plus or Seachem Prime, and I let the water sit at least 24-48 hours before I use it.
I occasionally dose the tank with Kordon Fish Protector (Maintenance Formula).
I don't overfeed my betta, and I fast him two days a week.
My betta has been happy as a clam since I got him several months ago. His appetite has always been great, and he is normally a very active betta who spends most of his time watching me.
However, last week, I noticed that his nerite snail companions were dropping dead en masse. There were five larger snails and three smaller snails, and all of them are now dead but for one large snail, and that survivor spends all of his time stuck to the portion of the filter that is above the waterline.
Around the time of the snail die-off, my betta's behavior changed. He became much more lethargic, and spends most of his time sleeping/resting on the plants. He even goes into his chichlid cave now, which he never did before. He also seems to be a bit constipated, which I am treating with the boiled pea method.
I tested the water parameters of both my tank and my current bucket of treated tapwater.
-Ammonia, Nitrate, Nitrite are 0 ppm.
-pH is extremely low, 6.0 or lower.
-Hardness is very high: 425+ ppm
-Alkalinity is extremely low: 0 ppm
My aged tapwater:
-Ammonia, Nitrate, Nitrite are 0 ppm.
-pH is extremely high, 8.4 or higher
-Hardness is high, 250-425 ppm
-Alkalinity is high, 300 ppm
I also have access to Arrowhead bottled Spring Water, which I tested as well:
-Ammonia, Nitrate, Nitrite are 0 ppm.
-Hardness: ~50 ppm
-Alkalinity: ~80 ppm
I don't know what to do. Should I start doing water changes exclusively with the spring water, or should I mix it with my aged tapwater when I do water changes?
Any advice is appreciated :} Thank you.
Here is a photo of my tank, if a visual is helpful:
Something is causing the source water (tap water) to lose its Alkalinity (KH or carbonate/bicarbonate hardness) prior to entering the tank, or perhaps in the tank, though the latter is less likely. With no KH there is no buffer for the pH and it will tend to lower due to carbonic acid arising from the CO2. This is a natural process that occurs in all aquaria with fish and plants, though the rate depends upon the initial hardness (esp KH) of the source water.
For a fuller explanation of this process, have a read of my article here:
I wouldn't have thought that either Prime or Am-Quel would affect the KH. Nor the Kordon Fish Protector [here's a link to their site: Kordon LLC - Kordon - Fish Protector ].
However, all of these products do mess with the water, and in my view this is not advisable unless you have specific reason due to your tap water.
The Kordon detoxifies heavy metals, as does Prime. This means they are not available for plants as nutrients for up to 48 hours [Prime is effective for 24-48 hours, not sure of Kordon]. Prime and Am-Quel also detoxify ammonia by changing it to ammonium which is not so bad, as the plants prefer ammonium as their source of nitrogen.
I wouldn't think the GH at 425ppm is the problem for the snails; calcium and magnesium are the prime minerals for hardness so presumably these are still in the water from tap to tank. This would cause me to look elsewhere. Particularly since the Betta is a soft water fish and would not be affected detrimentally by a low pH unless it was sudden, which this presumably was not. The tank has likely been lowering gradually.
The more chemical stuff we add to an aquarium, the more chance there may be a reaction between products. My suggestion would be to not use the Am-Quel or Kordon products, but stick with a good conditioner. You don't mention if ammonia or nitrite are in your tap water; if they are not, then I would not recommend Prime. I do not believe in using a product that does so much messing with the water unless it is necessary. The plants are better equipped to deal with the minimal ammonia from one Betta and the bacteria. If your tap water has other problems, I may change this suggestion. The best water conditioner is one that only detoxifies whatever is harmful in the source water, nothing more.
Are any other products, like plant fertilizers, going in this tank? Are you presently using Spring Water with tap water? The Betta's health may be due to something quite different. We may need to explore things a bit.
That is a very nice little set up you have. I am really glad Byron answered he is a libary of knowledge.
Hey Byron, thanks so much for taking the time to have a look at my issue :}
Using the Prime/AmQuel is a blind habit of mine... I used to raise triops, and their water parameters were so narrow that I was told that I couldn't use tap water, period, because it had chlorine and all kinds of horrific evils in it. I used to use the spring water exclusively for the triops and my other aquarium (a 10gal that housed a trio of Neon Tetras), but it became a hassle to use the spring water, and besides, my family started to give me the evil eye for using up so much "expensive" water on my critters. So, I started to go with the "aged", conditioned tapwater for my 10gal and for my betta's tank.
I see what you're saying about all the products messing with the water. It makes good sense. Nothing packed with that many chemicals can be GOOD for a living critter, no matter how amazing it seems.
I ran some tests on my tapwater:
-pH somewhere in the 7.6 - 7.8 range
-Ammonia/Nitrite/Nitrates were 0 ppm.
-The Hardness was listed at 6 or 7 dKH (my kit only shows dKH... I'm thinking of picking up a better kit.)
I live in a fairly large city in California, and my betta's tank is at my family's small business office, and according to my city's website, "twenty-five percent of the City’s water supply is imported from a water district which uses a different disinfection method known as "chloramination", a combination of chlorine and ammonia." -- So, it sounds like my office's tapwater very well could have chlorine in it... though it didn't show any ammonia on the test.
So, I guess since my tapwater doesn't have any ammonia, nitrites, or nitrate in it, it's possibly safe to use as-is?... I'm not sure about its chlorine content. Do I have to "age" the tapwater at all?
I haven't used any plant fertilizers. There is a ceramic "cichlid cave" in the tank, but it's been in there since June, as have the smooth "aquarium rocks" I put in there.
I am not currently using any spring water in the tank, only the aged, conditioned tapwater.
My betta does still have an appetite, and I don't think he's constipated any more, but he is still fairly listless. And now all the nerite snails are dead :/
Tomorrow I'm going to stop by the fish store and see if I can find a dedicated, non-strip test for alkalinity and hardness, and chlorine if they have one.
If if was me since your tab water doesn't have ammonia, nitrites, or nitrates. I would just use a dechlorinator. Just make sure it is one that handles chlorine and chloramines. Most do. As for aged tab water. I never understand the point of that anyways. Is that to get rid of the chlorine without using chemicals? If so that only works only if you agitate the water and that only removes chlorine and not chlorimanes which more and more water company's are using.
If tapwater contains chloramines, then it also contains ammonia.(small amount's)
Chloramine is combination of chlorine and ammonia.
Were this my tank, I would put away test kit's and I would perform smaller more frequent water changes using the tapwater and PRIME for a few week's and then I would go with 40 to 50 percent water change each week using PRIME.
Most conditioner's that address Chloramines only remove the chlorine portion and leave the ammonia for biological filter or plant's to process.PRIME also detoxify's ammonia portion of chloramine's.
Nerite snail's I have kept die at nearly 40% rate when kept in straight dechlorinated feshwater.
Have heard that they do better in sighly brackish water.
The A|I liquid test kits are reliable. As are the Sera if you find them, though they are more expensive. i use API. The GH and KH tests are easy to use but I have trouble seeing the difference between orange and green. But then my tap water is very soft, 1 dGH at most. Personally, unless you intend to adjust the hardness of the tank, I wouldn't waste money on a test kit for hardness. I am not convinced this is related to the snail/Betta issue.
Thank you all for the help :}
I remember reading articles/websites a while back that advised people to "age" their tapwater; the articles said this allowed the "gases" and chlorine to escape. I thought that sounded good, so I didn't look any further into it. :/
I also got a clear answer from anyone (in the online triops community, that is) as to whether Prime/AmQuel and tap water conditioners worked instantly or took time to work, so I erred on what I thought was the side of caution and let my bucket of water sit at least 24hrs.
My betta seemed fine, so I didn't question my process until all my snails bit the dust.
However! Today I went to the fish store today and picked up some "regular" water conditioner. Actually, I got two bottles - API Tap Water Conditioner and Kordon NovAqua Plus. The store didn't have any chlorine test kits, but I'm probably committing all sorts of user errors with the kits anyway, and I may be scaring myself with the results more than I need to.
I'll do a good 25% water change today with conditioned tapwater.
My betta is looking perkier today, too - he's much more interested in what's going on outside the tank. I also picked up some frozen food to weave into his diet, though I do still want to try him on some live food sometime.
I'll pass on getting more test kits or worrying myself too much with the results, then. I'll use the water conditioner and avoid the Prime/AmQuel.
I'll let you guys know how things are going after a few days of water changes. Maybe if things are looking okay, I'll reintroduce some more snails or maybe some glass shrimp.
Thank you all for the advice and swift responses! :}
Tests. I only test for nitrates and pH, although I am presently testing hardness in two tanks because I am specifically raising the GH slightly and need to. But aside from this, only the pH and nitrate. And I rarely test nitrate now as I "know" what it will be so as long as sporadic (every couple months) tests continue to give the same results, no issue there. With lots of plants nitrate should never be an issue unless something disastrous occurs, but my weekly 50% water changes prevent this. After a while you get a feel for it.
Water conditioners work instantly; I use a "Python" gadget to drain and fill my larger tanks and a minute or more of tap water gets in the tank before the conditioner does, but in 15 years I've only once had a problem, and that was because I completely forgot the conditioner:-(. I used Kordon for years, it is very reliable. API is another reliable brand.
The advice to let new water sit for 24 hours was OK back in the days when only chlorine was added to municipal water supplies and minimally. Chlorine is a gas and will dissipate out of water if it sits for 24 hours; it will also dissipate out if the water is briskly agitated. This latter point is why many municipalities now add chloramine as well; as the water travels through the pipes, the farther it goes the more chlorine gasses out. Here in Vancouver they have chlorine stations to replenish the chlorine. But other places use chloramine because the ammonia binds the chlorine somehow and prevents this. Chloramine will not dissipate out like chlorine does, so if this is all one did (setting the water out to "age") and chloramine was in the water, it would have no benefit. Thus, the conditioner.
Keep us posted on progress.
I would still consider sticking with the PRIME or Amquel Plus that OP was originally using for each water change.
The two conditioner's recently purchased, do not address ammonia from chloramine treatment.
Original product's render ammonia from chloramines to harmless ammonium for a period of 12 to 24 hours and plant's,bacteria,will use either form of ammonia.
Fish and snails would prefer ammonium.
Three small plant's in roughly eight gallons does not in my view make a planted tank, and with livestock,,, I would alway's use conditioner that addresses what's in my water, be it chlorine or chloramines,metal's etc. Opinion's vary.
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