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Re: NFC: Why Test Water....

Great post Joshua. I'm leaving it intact, below, as it deserves re-reading.

One thing I have learned in nearly a half-century of fishkeeping is that
"It's the water, stupid!" Its parameters are as vital to the fish as the air
we breath is to us, *but* the higher density and chemical situation makes it
even more critical and fast acting.

One thing people consistently get misled about at the LFS (local fish store)
is the importance of osmosis to the fish. [Osmosis is the tendency for water
to penetrate a permeable membrane to reduce saltiness on the other side,
building pressure there as a result.] pH kits are easier to sell at high
margin, and easier to use, but the fact is that fish don't really feel or
taste or react to even abrupt pH change, much less slow change.

Fish react to (are poisoned by) ammonia if pH is high, or nitrite if it is
low, certainly. Most of what is attributed to pH shock is suddenly moving a
fish from harder or saltier (more conductive) water to softer, purer (less
conductive) water. The pH difference is coincidental and not involved in the
distress. Failing to give time for the complex three-level barrier system to
adjust the cells so they don't absorb so much water that they burst is what
shocks the fish. Their gills are destroyed or seriously damaged by osmotic

Going from low to high tds water is less destructive, for the cells are
temporarily dehydrated, but not destroyed. Stressful it may be, but it is
less-often fatal.

I added conductivity above, as it is the closest measurable parameter to
osmosis effect that we can check easily. GH and KH kits tell only part of
the story, for they don't measure NaCl and other such monovalent salts. An
excellent conductivity meter, calibrated to read in parts-per-million (ppm)
of total dissolved solids (tds) costs less than $15 at Hanna Instruments. 

[ http://www.hannainst.com/products/promo/usa/usaprmo.htm#pH ]

I use my pH pens (I have 2) only once a month or so on average, now. I use
my tds meter several times a week, often several times a day! Every water
change, and every fish move to a new container or new fish introduction gets
a quick check to assure that the tds difference is less than a factor of
two. If it's more, they get drip acclimated to allow them to adjust.

As long as the pH is between 4 and 10, I routinely "shock" fish with pH
differences of 2 or even 3 with no discernable effect. I just make sure
there is no ammonia/ammonium or nitrite (nitrate is non-toxic and
unimportant, BTW), and that tds is relatively close before I do that.

My only other test that is routinely used is a simple chlorine check. [I use
the cheap ones from the pool section at Home Depot, for they are identical
to the LFS kits at 1/4 the price or less.] My city water has a little
chloramine added (chlorine kits read it the same). I trickle my fish water
through two big carbon filters in series, which eliminates it. My RO system
has three of them. The effectiveness depends on time of contact, so I store
the water in 30G plastic tanks and fill them *very* slowly. A waterfall pump
and 60' of clear vinyl hose lets me distribute that room-temp. water to any
tank in the house.

I check for chlorine in the water at a tap between the two filters every few
weeks. When the first filter is starting to show some "punch through" on the
chlorine test, I just replace it with the second (nearly unused) one and put
a new one in place of it.

The fact that some fish breed and do better in different water hardnesses is
enabled, for me, entirely by the tds pen. I add salt to some of my Nothos
and pupfish, and mix RO and tap water for many rain-forest killies and
Bettas. The chance for a disastrous mistake goes way up when you have a lot
of tanks and a lot of conditions to worry about. The tds in my tanks may
range from 50 to 900ppm. I'd eventually kill almost all my fish if I didn't
do frequent tds checks. Over the years, I have had to gradually learn what
is important and what is not, to my fish.

For me, if I had to choose only one thing to test, the tds (conductivity) is
far and away the most important one. YMMV. [OK, Joshua, temperature
certainly is important, too, but I can tell a lot with my "calibrated" index
finger. ;-)]


Joshua L Wiegert wrote:
> A  lo tof people ask me this question every now and then... Why should I
> test my water regularly?  Once the tank is cycled, shouldn't everything be
> fine?  If my tank is cycled, and I'm doing regular water changes, why
> should I spend all that money on an expensive water testing kit?
> So.. should you regularly test water even though the tank appears to be
> doing fine?  The answer is yes.  Its still very important to check your
> pH, NH3, and nitrate.  Nitrite, Hardness, and all those other paramaters
> are nice to test too, but they're typically not as important as those
> three.
> One parameter I didn't mention there that is extremely important to watch
> is... Temperature.  This test kit costs about 2$ and lasts forever.  I've
> had tanks experience amazing swings based on all sorts of things.  Without
> watching the temperature, its amazing how quickly O2-run out and ich can
> set in.  During the day, your plants and algae are producing lots of
> oxygen, allowing the fish to live happily.  However, when the tank lights
> go out, its a whole different story.  The plants start using oxygen,
> rather than making it, and your fish may suffer as a result.   Other
> sources of heat may be keeping the tank at a fine temperatur.  These may
> be such things as the oven, lights, and other electrical appliances.  When
> you turn in for the night, you may also cool the house a little, resulting
> in serious problems.  Its also not unusual for a thermostat in an aquarium
> heater to slowly uncalibrate.  When this occurs, your tank can slowly get
> warmer or cooler, without you noticing.
> The biological activities of the tank slowly lower pH.  With frequent
> water changes and good water quality, these are minimized.  However, the
> pH still slowly drops.  THis is especially true in soft water.  (Speaking
> of which, water tends to harden up over time.  Since you're constantly
> replacing water lost to evepaouration with water having some hardness, the
> water is naturally going to get harder and harder over time.  Something to
> watch for those with really soft water and soft-water loving fish. )
> Because this change in pH can be so slow, your fish can adapt over time.
> But try to add some new ones, and they're floating ina  few moments.  This
> is a true headache to those of us in the pet shop business.  "My fish have
> been living fine in there for five years, your fish are defective!"
> NH3, even in a cycled tank, can suddenly rear its ugly head.  This
> morning,  I dropped some remaining feeder guppies in with my lion fish.
> They swam eratically for a few moments and died.  The H3 had jumped to 1.5
> PPM.  Most likely, this was due to frequent feedings of brine shrimp for a
> goby.  It had slowly climbed back up, even though the tank was cycled.
> The fish were doing, more or less, allright.  They'd adapted to the slow
> climb.  THe guppies, no matter how hardy they may typically be, couldn't
> tolerate the change.  Umnfortunately, they're now adding to the ammonia in
> the tank.
> This slow climb and the adaption to it is something a proff of mine once
> called, "The Boiled Frog Syndrome."  It goes something like this:
> You take one pot of water, and get it up and close to boiling.  Then, you
> take a nice big frog, and drop him in.  He screams and leaps out of the
> water.  The water is waay too hot for the frog.  (This is a cartoon frog,
> folks -- no one sick PETA on me. :)  You then take the same frog (after
> he's forgotten all about it, of course) and drop him in a pot of nice cool
> water.  You slowly turn the heat on.  The frog thinks this is great, nice
> comfortable water.  The heat slowly, slowly heats up the water... Pretty
> soon, you've got a nice frog soup.  The change was so gradual that he
> coudln't notice.
>  end
>   ____^__
> ><,Darwin,>
> Joshua L. Wiegert
> NFC Lists Administrator                          JLW at pi_dune.net
> www.geocities.com/RainForest/Jungle/1680/        owner-nfc at actwin_com
> ICQ 69551951                                     AIM UID: Etheosoma
> Feel free to contact me by any of the above means for any reason.
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Wright Huntley, Fremont CA, USA, 510 494-8679  huntleyone at home dot com

           To err is human. To blame someone else is politics.
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