I'm brand new to the community and already have some questions and concerns regarding the PH balance of my tank! First however, when the parameters I'm seeking are met I intend this to be a shrimp tank, so the water acidity and softness is a particular concern. I have a 30 gallon that is relatively densely planted, but still has a long way to go. It has pieces of driftwood varying in size and two safe rocks (should I remove these?)I expect it to be a number of months before I add shrimp as the stock. It currently has only a small school of 8 neon tetras and 6 sterbai corys which are doing well. When the shrimp are bought, the current stock will be relocated into my second tank I'm preparing. Now with my purpose stated, I can move onto the questions which the majority of the community is probably sick of answering and reading! Onwards!
To put a number on my PH and water hardness would be quite difficult. It registers off the scale. My primary source of water is from an artesian well. I live on a forest preserve far enough from any farms that I don't need to worry about any chemical runoffs from their crop messing with the lake. I love this aspect of the water that's it's quite clean. The downside is that it's stupidly rich in minerals. As I proceed, I'll do a sort of "step by step" as to what I've done and changed with my tank. My initial fill of the tank was 100% from this water. I acclimated my current stock through a drip method and they've been quite happy with the conditions. Upon realizing what I wanted out of my tank in the end and what my water conditions were, it led me to research and stumble upon RO water as my potential savior. Fortunately, I have a very very high end RO system that produces stellar results. I understand that RO water is essentially water at its purest essence and with that being said, both acidity and alkalinity are very influential in its PH spikes. Over the past two months I have been doing a 5 gallon water change weekly and replacing it fully with RO water. This is where my understanding begins to waver. The water has not budged. I assume because the current water is already so mineral dense that doing such a small change weekly will not influence it greatly enough. I have the combined forces of my plants consuming minerals and my driftwood releasing its tannins to give favor to acidity, but I assume there are so many buffers in the water at this point that the attempts at lowering the PH are futile. Does this call for more drastic measures? Should I slowly transfer my current water and stock to my second tank and work from a clean start on the shrimp tank?
Assuming the latter is a reasonable option, how then will it work? Assume I have my tank filled 100% with RO water (only my plants to worry about, other stock are removed from worry). At this point, I need to add xyz to lower the PH. Peat, oak leavers, driftwood, you name it. On the other hand, I understand I also need minerals present in this. How/what would I add in order to achieve a reasonable amount of these without the PH spiraling upwards out of control. When you mineralize your own water, are there no natural buffers which dictate the PH? Sorry for the constant stream of questions and confusions. As of now I see water hardness and high PH as an undefeatable beast which stops me from keeping the stock I desire! To defeat this beast, I desire a thorough understanding. Thank you for your time in reading this.
Well i would suggest keeping fish that are happy in your water parameters that is the best thing. With shrimp like neos and rcs, they will work well in well water. Actually the extra calcium in the water would help them. I would research cross breading with any species of shrimp you get. If they cross bread they will loose all color.
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This is a topic I have researched a great deal, and even wrote an article on. Off the top, your shrimp alone will be fine in hard water, so nothing need be done for them. But fish, especially soft water fish like those mentioned, are a very different matter.
Briefly on the water chemistry. The GH (general hardness), KH (carbonate hardness or Alkalinity) and pH are closely connected. The GH matters a great deal to fish (and shrimp, for this is the source of calcium for their exoskeleton), and the pH also is important but actually not as much as GH unless the pH is way off the mark. The KH has no effect on fish or shrimp or plants at all, but it does "buffer" pH so it is important for us to know.
Live plants will not affect the GH or pH to any degree that is significant; however, the GH of the water may affect plants, depending upon species. Wood has very little effect on GH and pH, unless the water is near-zero in GH and KH to begin with. I have basically zero GH and KH tap water, and my tanks have a great deal of wood in them; yet the pH remains just above 6, and in the tanks in which I deliberately raise the GH it does not vary from week to week. Dried leaves and peat will work faster at lowering GH and pH, but this depends too upon the initial numbers and especially the KH. Without reducing the GH and KH by dilution with "pure" water like RO, not much will happen. But if the buffering capacity of the KH should be reached, the system could crash and the pH very suddenly drop. One should never experiment with this with fish in the tank.
If you are OK with using RO water, as you seem to be, this would be best for the fish. The prevalent advice in the hobby about RO water being unsuitable is a bit misleading. It depends upon the fish species. I have soft water fish exclusively, most of them being wild caught as well. My zero GH/KH water with a slightly acidic pH is ideal. These fish do not need minerals in the water, they have evolved with a physiology that expects "pure" water. Hard water causes internal problems such as calcium blockage of the kidneys. This is probably unseen by most aquarists unless you dissect the dead fish. Soft water fish maintained in hard water never live to their normal life expectancy, due to the minerals.
Plants however need some mineral, and certain species require more calcium than others. The larger sword plants for instance need a GH of no less than 4 dGH or they develop calcium deficiencies. This is why I raise the GH from zero to around 5 dGH in two of my tanks. But the tanks containing my most delicate wild-caught soft water fish are left at near-zero GH, and the fish thrive and spawn regularly.
Hope this helps a bit. If you want to read the article on hardness and pH, it is here:
I use 100% RO/DI water in my 75 gal and future dual 29 gal tanks. I use Seachem Replenish to add the needed minerals (very easy to adjust to the exact dGH you need) and Seachem Acid Buffer and Alkaline Buffer to buffer the pH as needed. These products are easy to use once you figure out the math to adjust your RO water for the requirements of your tank.
You will need the API GH & KH test kit (I don't do the KH test at all) and also their low range pH test kit.
My 75 gal Journal & My Dual 29 gal Journal
My 75 gal - Gold Pristella Tetras, Scissortail Rasboras, Neon Dwarf Rainbowfish, Longfin Leopard & Zebra Danios, Bristlenose Pleco
My Dual 29 gals - Left Tank - Diamond Tetras. Right Tank - Amano Shrimp, Black Neon Tetras
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Geno- Thanks for the tips, it's nice to know my water isn't a detrimental as I thought it was! I've also taken a look over a few shrimp breeding charts. More than likely, I'm only going to have one kind in this particular tank to avoid any complexities. The warning is appreciated :).
Bryon- Your article was phenomenal in giving me a deeper understanding in hardness and PH. I can't thank you enough for that. That being said, for the sake of future knowledge and theory I have one further question. Knowing now that I have to find that balance in GH, KH, and PH would I just make many test solutions (outside the tank of course!) to attain the ideal combination which in the end would result in my PH?
So first I would find out what ratio of well to RO water would give the ideal GH since I have no control over that other than diluting it.
Once my ideal GH mixture is achieved I would experiment to find the how much of the GH part of my ratio needs to be boiled in order to achieve a KH with my ideal amount of buffers? It's at this point I'm a little unsure, so correction if necessary would be much appreciated. With a GH measure that I want, KH measure that I want, I'm still wary on influencing the PH itself.
From how I'm understanding it, the PH will only truly go down once the buffers have "soaked" all they can. If the buffers are the only thing keeping the water's PH stable, how then would you truly reduce the PH without having a sudden downfall. In a stock free environment, these downfalls would not harm anything but without the buffers are there natural occurrences in the tank which could cause a fatal drop? Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding entirely with this section of the topic. These numbers will make absolutely no sense and might cause a scoff or two but they're for the sake of my understanding so bear with me :P.
Would it be more of a scenario like:
12 KH (we'll assume this is the high-end of measurement) = 9 PH and high buffer capacity.
6 KH (mid range) = close 7 PH and middle buffer capacity.
0-1KH = very acidic PH and also very little capacity, meaning high risk of PH drops.
I apologize if this only makes things more of a headache, but this last bit of the correlation between KH and PH is all that's left for the understanding to click.
Last edited by Bmhxc; 10-22-2013 at 05:19 PM.
Let me start answering by saying that I am not a chemist, so my research and experimenting myself are all I have to go on. And I have never had "hard" water out of the tap, quite the opposite.
Dilution of hard water [we will assume high GH and KH] with RO water is proportional. So if you do it half/half, you will reduce the GH by half. So I would set up the aquarium, minus any fish, and add perhaps 3/4 RO water, then add some tap water and test the GH and KH and pH. Recognize that the pH will still be relatively high, but will naturally lower due to organics. I would probably aim for a GH around 4 or 5 dGH. The GH and KH generally will not change in the aquarium, or not by very much, unless something is deliberately targeting them. For example, having calcareous rock, gravel or sand will naturally add mineral and raise the GH, probably KH, and certainly pH. As I said previously, wood has little impact, but a lot of leaves or peat would tend to lower the GH and KH and pH further.
The pH will lower, but it will probably lower further as the aquarium becomes established. This is what happens in my tanks.
What shrimp are we talking about here? And what exactly is crazy with minerals on the water?
Tall- The shrimp itself isn't exactly a concern right now as much as I'm just frustrated that I can't quite grasp the concept of KH and PH correlation. Moreover, how to attain a "stable" lower PH by reduction of KH. The minerals are crazy because there's such an overabundance.
Byron- Continuing with the disaster free scenario where no fish are yet involved. The GH is achieved, now if I added a number of oak leaves to release a considerable amount of tannins and the buffer capacity becomes "saturated" and thus the PH begins to lower, would this water with a lower PH be considered dangerous to fish? Obviously, I would slowly acclimate them to the new conditions, but as far as stability is concerned what would happen? With the buffers over saturated and the oak leaves removed, would this water be vulnerable to dangerous drops in PH due to natural occurrences that are seen in the tank? Or given time before adding fish, would it establish itself?
First, talldutchie is correct, we really need to see the numbers. We might be making a tempest in a teacup. But not knowing the numbers, I will continue to answer your questions as best as I can.
Originally Posted by Bmhxc
Not necessarily. It depends upon the fish species, where they came from (wild or commercially raised), and of course the actual pH number. Some fish live in pH between 3 and 4, some can't.
The GH is achieved, now if I added a number of oak leaves to release a considerable amount of tannins and the buffer capacity becomes "saturated" and thus the PH begins to lower, would this water with a lower PH be considered dangerous to fish?
My tanks are all running around 6.2 to 6.4 these days; prior to 2001 they were down below 5.0, and I just let them go. In 2001 the local water board began raising the pH in our very soft water by using ash; this has no impact on GH or KH, it just raises the pH up to 7 or 7.2, but in my tanks it lowers to just above 6. My weekly 50% partial water changes (and I do not fuss with the pH at all) seems to keep things steady. I have no buffering of any sort in the tanks, all have zero GH and KH, except for the two in which I use Equilibrium to raise the GH to around 5 dGH. This does not impact KH.
as far as stability is concerned what would happen? With the buffers over saturated and the oak leaves removed, would this water be vulnerable to dangerous drops in PH due to natural occurrences that are seen in the tank? Or given time before adding fish, would it establish itself?
An aquarium that is well maintained, not overstocked, and all else being equal, tends to establish its own biological balance. I have always believed it best to go with nature, and not try to "buffer" for some reason that may not matter anyway. When my tanks ran below pH 5, I never lost fish; they spawned like mad, and as far as I know lived normal lifespans. The late ichthyologist Dr. Jacques Gery once wrote that cardinal tetra should live past ten years, but this only happens in very soft acidic water; in moderately hard water they seldom last 3 or 4 years. We now know this is due to calcium blockage of the kidneys. Many other soft water fish are similar.
Last edited by Byron; 10-22-2013 at 09:22 PM.
I UNDERSTAND NOW. Byron, your article actually had what I was confused about all along. For some reason, I didn't read that the buffers worked in both ways for acid and base! Scratch aaaaalll my nonsense and rambling of confusion. It finally clicks after all day of struggling with it xD. Thank you and everyone who took the time to reply.