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CO2 questions

Hi ... I'm another person silently lurking for a few months who is ready to try CO2 injection!

I have a few questions ... and a few sources ...

The tank of interest is a 55 gallon with 3-40 W flourescent bulbs (I'll go to 4 when I add CO2)- "full spectrum" from Home Depot- the brand escapes me.  My plant-growing experience so far has been disappointing ... little growth except by those pesky algae (assorted varieties).  I have thus far used Tetra Initial sticks and their rooting product (can't think of the name) along with Ferrovit for fertilization.  I have some laterite balls on the way, along with some Dupla fertilizer products.  (I'll tackle PMDD for my next project).  I suspect that the phosphates are high in my tank from what I have read, but don't have a kit to test it.  The tank is home to 8 rainbowfish of assorted varieties (currently 1-2 inches long), 3 clown loaches, and two dwarf plecos (Clown?).

I live in San Diego, so my pH out of the tap is about 8.4 (yuck!  Unless you are a cichlid fan, of course).  I don't know the KH yet, but the Tetra kit is on the way ... I'll wait until I get that to start playing with CO2.  I have thus far not adjusted the pH in any way and have had all of the fish for several months with no problems ... one of the loaches for two years.

I just got a 10 # CO2 cylinder along with a Victor Regulated Flow Meter (source/model info at end).  It combines the regulator/needle valve.  (After purchasing it, of course, I found a similar contraption on the net ... manufactured by Harris (model 355)... specs and picture can be found at:  http://www.harriscal.com/flmtreg.htm  ... I'm sure this is cheaper than the Victor model ... )   I liked the idea of the combined regulator/needle valve as I have read that connecting the two once you get them can be a bit of a puzzle.  I'm not sure if this combined valve will work with an automated system ... can you put the solenoid after the needle valve?  I seem to remember reading that you can't, but I've read a lot recently about CO2 setups, so I could have it jumbled.  At any rate, I plan a manual system until my finances allow a pH controller.  I have gleaned many DIY ideas for CO2 reactors from past postings, so I think I can do something creative there.  My tank has a built-in wet/dry filter in the back with water returned by a powerhead ... maybe I'll start by injecting to the powerhead.

I ordered some plants that should be arriving on Friday ... I've read all I can find (thank you to all of you who have generously shared your information ... this list is truly a gold mine!) ... I think I'm ready ... what I haven't seen discussed much brings me to my questions:

1. Given that I already have a tank set up with fish acclimated to the tank conditions (high pH, low CO2), what are your suggestions on how to initially introduce CO2 without killing the fish?  It seems like the target pH will be around 7 or so (I will, of course, look that up in the table once I get my trusty KH kit).  How slowly should I progress in lowering the pH?  If I start with the suggested rate of one bubble/second will this be too much at first?
2. If it is necessary for me to adjust the KH, do I empty out all of the tank water and refill it with adjusted water, or should I slowly adjust this with time as well?  I don't recall seeing anything about whether quick changes in KH are detrimental to fish.

Anyway, if anyone has some comments/suggestions, I would appreciate the assistance.  Although I would love to see some plant growth, I am rather attached to the fish as well.

As promised ... CO2 sources in San Diego/Regulator/Plant info:

Victor Regulated Flow Meter  
part #: 0781-2725  other #: HRF1480-320.  
Fixed regulator output of 80 p.s.i. followed by a thumbscrew-controlled needle valve.  It has a pressure gauge for bottle pressure and a flow meter on the output.  I'll let you know how it works.

San Diego Source: 
 Welders Supply & Equipment Co.  3091 Market St., San Diego, CA  92102  (619) 239-2141.  Ask for Paul (very helpful).   
Victor regulator/flowmeter:  $108  (there were other, cheaper models that adjusted with a screwdriver).  They might have the Harris as well.  
CO2:  10# cylinder:  $71  refill:  10.01    5# cylinder:  $66  refill:  $9.40 (10 is obviously a better deal).  They will custom make the tubing (he said rubber- neoprene perhaps ?) to whatever length you want.

Harris model is # 355.  Fixed regulator output of 20 p.s.i. (might be better for this application?).  Sources available from their web page at:  http://www.harriscal.com 

If you are interested in the Nupro B-4MG2 needle valve, it is available at San Diego Valve & Fitting for $38.50.  It takes 7 to 10 days to order.  (619) 276-1122.

Plants:  Arizona Aquatic Gardens.  http://www.rosemart.com/aq-gardens/ .  The prices are good and they are very helpful.  If you are as bad at pronouncing the names as I am, fax your order to (520) 579-5539 and then call them at 1-800-942-4523.   They will check their inventory and confirm availability without you having to guess how to say Ceratopterus thalictroides!  I will let you know how the plants are after I get them on Friday.

Thanks for all of your previous/future help!

Betsy George