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When asking for advice on this list it is most efficient if you know the
basics of your water chemistry. In urban areas this is as simple to find out
as calling your utility department and asking for a printout. It is also
better if you've already visited thekrib.com and read through the
discussions of the things that are unclear to you.
That being said, I would propose that the easiest way to keep a 'beautiful'
aquarium is as simple as A) Determining the chemical condition of your
tapwater, and then 2) Determining which fish and plants normally thrive in
those conditions. After that, it is a matter of working out a balance of the
macro and micro-nutrients. Said balance usually involving the provision of
adequate light, CO2 supplementation, and fertilization.
A personal anecdote: Our tapwater comes out with a pH of 9.8.....yes, that's
9.8. Sounds horrible for plants and anything living. The pH is that high
because the water department uses a treatment process that drives all CO2
out of solution. If you let the very same water sit in a container for a
while it will draw CO2 out of the atmosphere and will shortly reach a
stabilized pH of 7.6. From 9.8 to 7.6 all by itself. A bubble per second of
CO2 into the filter on a 60 gallon easily gets it down to 6.8, even with
moderately high KH and GH readings.
Plants have been growing in water for about what, 2 billion years?