my water is toxic and very confusing - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 08:07 PM Thread Starter
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my water is toxic and very confusing

I feel like a black thumb when it comes to my fish. For the past 2.5 years I've struggled to keep my fish alive. The only thing I seem to grow well is algae. Today I'm just so confused. I don't know what to do.

The tank is 29gal, low tech, 2 x 18 watt T5NO 6700K bulbs, Tank is 18" x 30" x 12.5" IIRC. Eco-complete substrate. One piece of slate. Two large pieces of drift wood.

Lots and lots of anubais nana petite (most of which reverted to a larger size...) another tall plant I don't know the name of but is doing well. A tiny bit of Marsilea minuta or quadrifolia (depending on who you ask) that is struggling along. Not dying. Not growing. Have tried to grow other things but can't.

I have 2 madagascar rainbows (the third one was sickly and died) 1 dwarf honey sunset gourami (2 others died) and 4 or 5 japonica shrimp. These are my oldest fish. About 2 weeks ago I got 10 ocelot danios 6 of which died almost instantly the moment I added some water to their bag (it wasn't even a lot of water) but 4 managed to recover. And did I mention I have plenty of algae?

I do add Excel daily.

My specs have always been the same: pH 7.6, no ammonia or nitrites, 5 ppm nitrates. I thought the water was hard because of the pH and because it buffers so well. But I found the old water test done on the well and it was in the soft range. The store also tested it and said it was soft. But the store also found that I had nitrites and ammonia which is strange since I've never seen any and other stores hadn't found any either. Maybe it was too close to when I had fed them?

Here's my dilemma. I decided to try adjusting my pH down to a more neutral level. I'm tired of killing all my fish. I don't know what's wrong but back many years we had this same tank set up, not planted and we adjusted the pH (that was what the book we got said to do so we did it). Fish were all fine. Of course I don't remember the kind of fish we had so many we only had easy ones. But I've even killed an entire school (15) of tetra in my tank this year. Tetra.

And these danios, the store I got them from said they hadn't been at the store, doing fine for several weeks (it's a very nice fish store) so it seems obvious there is something about my tank water that killed them off like that. But the idea is that even though the pH probably isn't the cause, it might help to make it a little more neutral to just reduce one stress.

So I've been trying to get the pH down to at least 7. At first I was adding the acid buffer (it's a seachem product) directly to the tank but the store guy said I should instead make a bucket of water, adjust that and then use that as my new water when I do a 10% water change. So that way I don't stress the fish out as much.

Today I filled up a bucket with 3 gallons of water from the tap. Now I have tested my water out of the tap before and it came back 7.6 So imagine my surprise when I tested the water in the bucket to be about 6.2. The only thing I can think is that the water had been running for longer before I tested it...

Then my dad said he'd just a few days ago changed the filter on the water tank/pump whatever. So I thought perhaps that's been my problem this whole time, except I asked him when the last time he'd changed it was and he said a few months ago. I've been having problems since the beginning so that doesn't seem like the cause, although I guess it could be a contributing factor.

But what should I do? I feel like now I don't know my water at all. Is it acidic or is it basic? If it really is 6.2 out of the tank (if it's been run for a little while) then perhaps that could explain why I have problems--especially because I've noticed a lot of my fish die right after a water change. That's how all the tetra died. Every time I did a water change (and I tried not to do too much, like 10% each time) more would die.

But then why is my tank becoming more basic if I don't have ammonia or nitrites? The water test did show we have a lot of manganese could that be it? But then the tap water wouldn't be 6.2

Should I still try to bring the pH down? Should I adjust the pH of the fresh 3 gallons up to 7 and then add that to the tank? Should I just start buying water from somewhere else?
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post #2 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 08:50 PM
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Stop trying to change your pH, that will cause a LOT more harm than having a slightly high or low pH. The fish will adjust to almost any pH level, changing the pH around is what kills them.

Stop adding excel until you figure this out.

Are you using something to remove chlorine when you do water changes? You don't mention that. From what you are saying, it sounds like you have a tank full of untreated tap water that is killing your fish. is offline  
post #3 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 09:18 PM Thread Starter
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It's well water. There is no chlorine in it but yes I do add something anyway. I forgot to say. It doesn't seem to matter if I use it or not.

I haven't messed around with the pH until only recently but my fish still die. I will stop adding excel although there have been times I haven't added it and it didn't make a difference.
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post #4 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 09:26 PM
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Do you have your own API fresh water test kit? I'm wondering if your tank is really cycled. It's something you should own so you can test ammonia, nitrites and nitrates.

Just rereading your post. Your tank water ph and out of the tap ph are different. That could cause ph shock that can greatly hurt your fish.

I agree with brainwave. Don't buffer. Fish and plants adapt to your ph.

Test your tank water and out of tap water and post here again. Lets see if we can figure this out.
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post #5 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 09:28 PM
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I agree--stop trying to adjust your pH. There is nothing wrong with a pH of 7.6.

Your well water (pH 6.2) may be high in CO2 and low in oxygen, which would explain the loss of fish after a water change. I would take a bucket from the tap and measure the pH over time, like every 24 hours. If it high in CO2 then the pH will rise as the CO2 dissipates. Aerating the bucket water would speed up the process if you don't want to wait that long, and you could measure every hour.
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post #6 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 10:04 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for everyone's help.

I do have my own API test. The results I wrote in the OP are from my most recent test this afternoon--- no ammonia, no nitrites and 5 ppm nitrates. I just don't have the solution to test for hardness so I will have to buy that. But I have had it tested at stores.

The water from the tap used to be 7.6. This is the first time I've tested it and it came out 6.2. I think perhaps the difference is between testing it fresh out of the tap vs. letting the tap run for a while. So if that is the case then the tap water is really 6.2 (or maybe even lower if I let it run longer? I think the company that tested the well let it run for 15 minutes before they tested it, I'd say it was running for 5-10 minutes before I tested it this time).

I will check the pH of the bucket of tap water again in a little bit.

Can anyone explain why the 6 danios died the moment I introduced my tank water to their bag? That's the first time the fish have died so quickly.
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post #7 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 10:11 PM
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Ponyo, when shipping fish, it's always a crap shoot as to their health from the breeder/seller, and what water their currently in, and how toxic it is.

It also sounds like you just dumped water in there? Please google the drip acclimation method. Along with this, the water they came in is VERY toxic....I always dose the bag with prime, then move them into a small bowl, then drip acclimate for an hour or so. I think float the bowl in my tank to let the water temp even out over time. After this, I end introduce the fish, kill the lights and co2, and not bother feeding that night until the next day.

Stop messing with your PH, that's a quick way to kill fish as well. You don't even need to worry about your water hardness, fish will acclimate over time to what you're using. Always test the tank, and then test the water you're adding when doing a water change. If it's a large difference, then let it slowly add to the tank, so the fish can get used to it as it's added. Constant, or abdrupted change in water will kill fish EVERY time. patience is a large virtue in the fish hobby, and it sounds like you have none of it.

As for your ground cover plants not doing well, test the PAR at the substrate, and crank your CO2...remember, excel is toxic to some fish as well...
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post #8 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 10:30 PM
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One question about your test kit.. when does it expire? I have used old test kits and readings have been way off.... also how much excel are you dosing ? Especially since you are not sure of the tank size?
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post #9 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 11:11 PM
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Does your house have a water conditioner/softener?
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post #10 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 11:28 PM Thread Starter
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You don't know me Jester, otherwise I think you would not jump to the conclusion you did.

That's ok. I'm a horse person. I know what it's like when people come on a board asking stupid questions and the answers seem so obvious. Unlike the horse world however, there is a lot more conflicting information about fish tanks. I have spent a lot of time reading and talking to people here and yes at the fish store. The fish store people say the internet is full of idiots and the internet people say the same about the fish stores. And one book says one thing and the other says something else.

So believe it not, what I have tried over the past 2.5 years to get a healthy tank has been by following the advice of on-line articles and people on this board. Hoppy has told me the light for my tank is ok and my low-growing plants should not be struggling the way they do. He did suggest I add fertilizers and I have bought them from someone on this board but I have not added them yet. I have had questions about them, and have done the reading but I am not confident enough to add them yet.

I guess at this time I decided, I had listened to on-line people and I had always ignored the advice of the guy at the store telling me I could adjust my pH. But finally I felt like, well I've tried the on-line advice, and I used to have a non-planted tank ages ago that didn't have these problems and I did adjust the pH back then (because back then that's what the books I read said to do) so I thought I would try it out of desperation.

I do not use CO2. It is a low tech tank. I try to chose plants that are ok in low light. All the plants I have tried in my tank have done well for others who have low light/low tech tanks. I am sure of the size of my tank it is a 29. I just could not remember where the 1/2" part went but I remeasured and it is 18.5" tall x 12" deep and 30" wide. I dose the excel at a little less than 1 cap/day per instructions, unless I misunderstood them.

I was torn between trying to introduce water into the bag slowly and wanting to get them out of the water they were in. I will read about the drip method. Thank you again for the help.
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post #11 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 11:30 PM Thread Starter
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Also, I will check my water test kit's expiration date, although I did have a store measure my tap and tank water a few months ago and they got the same readings as I do. My house does not have a conditioner/softener on the well.
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post #12 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 11:43 PM
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Originally Posted by ponyo View Post
My house does not have a conditioner/softener on the well.
Excuse my ignorance as i've never had a home with a well but there has to be something done to the water out of the well. I am pretty sure it doesn't just come out of the well and into the pipes. The process involved with that might need to be looked at. Also might want to see if there was something doen with the system between the time you were successful with your tanks and now.
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post #13 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-29-2013, 11:44 PM
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Just curious, but what's the KH of your tank water and your well water?

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post #14 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-30-2013, 12:18 AM
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Some background on me... I am an environmental engineer specializing in hazardous waste. That being said I look at a LOT of ground water monitoring data. I might be a hammer so everything looks like a nail but... It sounds like your problem is not something you are testing for. It is also very strange that you would not have any filtration (did you mention this?), softener, or conditioner on a potable water supply. You should definitely fix that. What part of the country do you live in? How deep is your well? I would think about the location of the well in relation to your septic tank, manure pile, maintenance shed, and any other features on your property. Do you live within 4 miles of a gas station? Particularly one that is older (6+ yrs) or may no longer be in operation. What if any industries are in the area? There are so many things in ground water that can cause problems like the ones you are describing, some occur naturally. It would be helpful to know more about the well water testing TDS, DO, phenol, TSS.. I agree with what everyone else has said about adjusting the pH. Don't do it. That is not the problem. Sounds more like a DO problem. If you can purchase your water from a reliable source I would do that. I would still investigate your potable water supply because if fish can't live in it you shouldn't be drinking or bathing in it!!!!! You mentioned you had other animals on the same water supply (I assume) do they have any health problems? colic, cancer, wasting, hair loss, changes in behavior...
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post #15 of 27 (permalink) Old 07-30-2013, 01:30 AM Thread Starter
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I don't think I'll be able to answer all those questions but I'll give it a go.

I live in New Hampshire. I'm not totally in the boonies but the town I live in is very rural. We have a village store and that's it. I live near the old center. My house is 230 years old (although it's had lots of renovations done to it--my parents, when they bought it, pretty much gutted it). At one point it became the town poor farm where poor/mentally & physically handicapped etc. people would go to live. I think there was a small orchard. There was definitely a huge old barn (only foundation left of it) and 18" of farm loam which is really impressive for the granite state LOL.

We have 10 acres cleared for the horses. I have 3 horses. I do not do a good job of picking the pasture because it's 10 acres and they roam all over it. But the manure pile is not near the well. We are planning to try to compost the manure pile. We just had a new septic system put in last summer. I presume there must be a filter on the well, I don't know how these things work. I probably should learn for the day when I own my own house. I know we don't have a softener because back when I thought we had hard water, I remember people mentioning being able to get something to soften the water out of the well and we didn't have it.

The horses are doing fine. I have cats and they are fine. Had a betta in college I did not take care of properly--that is to say, I didn't know jack and I did what the pet store guy told me and looking back on it, it was not the way to take care of a fish--but he did fine. I since had a betta a few years ago on my home water but in a 5gal, with filter and heater and driftwood and his fins rotted off. He never made a bubble nest and eventually died. I guess it could have just been a unhealthy betta from the beginning.

Or maybe I should have taken it as a sign not to continue with a fish tank. But my neighbor who had "borrowed" my old tank said she didn't want it anymore and she gave it back to me with a common pleco, a few schooling fish and a red tail shark. Said she had gotten some fish from walmart and put it in with them and it had been sick and they all died except the last few which I later killed (my talent apparently) and then turned it into a planted tank. And here I am today.

Sorry that was probably more than you wanted to know and not all that helpful.

PS. I forgot to add--the water has a bad taste (I presume from the large amount of manganese) unless you let it run for a bit. Perhaps that is the problem?
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