Ammonia in tap water: It's killing my fish! - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-17-2016, 12:32 PM Thread Starter
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Angry Ammonia in tap water: It's killing my fish!

I have been losing a fish per day for the past week and half. It started with a bow, then my shrimp, then the zerbra danios and this morning, one of my panda cories.

There has been road construction going on in front of my house for about a week and a half. The idiots that run my town decided that if they put sidewalks in, everybody and their grandmother will want to move here. Not true. The down has been decreasing in population by 6-8% over the past 5 years due to high property taxes, but that's a whole matter.

Suspecting the road construction was contributing to the deaths as where the construction crew have been digging for said sidewalks is less than 15 feet from my well, I have gone back to treating the water with Prime and have added carbon to all tanks in hopes that whatever was killing my fish would be filtered out. Clearly that's not working.

I just finished testing all tanks.

pH- Anywhere from 6.8- 7.0
Nitrites- 0
Nitrates- 10-15 ppm
GH- 5
KH-1
Ammonia- 1.0 across all tanks and from the tap. I did a 50% water change on all 3 tanks on Saturday.

Most of the plants are doing okay, although I'm now having a problems with diatoms because of the constant feed of ammonia.

Java ferns ( regular, needle leaf, and windelov) along with creeping charlie, pennywort and Hydrocotyle tripartita, Hydrocotyle sp. Japan seen to be holding up okay.

Swords, Italian vals and my crypts are not happy. The crypts are fairing better than the swords and vals, but they not growing like they were which leads me to believe that there is more going on in the water than I can test for.

How do I fix this?

The closest place I can get RO water is over 40 minutes away. That isn't round trip, it's one way. I can't put a RO system in the house because I'm on a well and don't have a endless water supply.

To say that I'm pissed off is a major understatement. I'm losing fish over f-ing sidewalks.
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post #2 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-17-2016, 01:16 PM
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How much water is needed for weekly water change on the three?tanks.
I might consider storing water in a barrel and hooking up a filter to run on the barrel with Zeolite inside the filter along with largish portion of biomedia.
In theory,the ammonia over time ,would build a colony of bacteria inside the filter and after you used the water for water changes,you would refill the barrel and the ammonia from the source water would continue to feed the bacteria colony in the filter.
By week's end the water should be free of ammonia and what little may still be there would be adsorbed by the zeolite.
So long as ammonia was present in the tap water you filled the barrel with,then the bacterial colony would have food for growth.
Is but a theory.
Have you tried doubling the dose of PRIME?
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post #3 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-17-2016, 01:52 PM Thread Starter
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How much water is needed for weekly water change on the three?tanks.
I might consider storing water in a barrel and hooking up a filter to run on the barrel with Zeolite inside the filter along with largish portion of biomedia.
In theory,the ammonia over time ,would build a colony of bacteria inside the filter and after you used the water for water changes,you would refill the barrel and the ammonia from the source water would continue to feed the bacteria colony in the filter.
By week's end the water should be free of ammonia and what little may still be there would be adsorbed by the zeolite.
So long as ammonia was present in the tap water you filled the barrel with,then the bacterial colony would have food for growth.
Is but a theory.
Have you tried doubling the dose of PRIME?
I need roughly 10 gallons and that's for one water change per week. The 29 and 10 gallon get one change per week, the 5.5 gets 2.

I have a empty 40B that was supposed to be upgrade to the 29. I'm assuming I can use that instead of a barrel? It will hold enough water that I would need plus extra.

No, I haven't tried double dosing Prime. I don't want to do that if I don't have to. I like Prime and recommend it, but double dosing would be a last resort.

As a side note, I called the Board of Health and explained what the situation is. Their response: "We not responsible for water quality from private wells." How nice. We did not need sidewalks. We've lived in the this house for 20 years in November. Never had this problem before and now the town wipes it's hands of any private well pollution.

This town has a history of polluted water due to the Board of Health turning a blind eye to polluted, private wells due to other peoples' doing. That resulted in a massive lawsuit and the town being forced to pipe in public water to all of this residents at the end of town. Gotta love gas stations that do oil changes and such dumping all of their toxic waste into the ground.

When I was done talking to the people at the Board of Health, I contacted the state lab that test our water before we bought the house. To have ammonia levels tested it would be $15.00. To have a portability test ( this is where they test for things like ammonia, copper, nitrate, nitrite, ect...) is $120.00. There are more elaborate tests we can have done, but that isn't important right now.

The 40B was supposed to be a upgrade for the 29. I was going to get that up and start cycling it when the weather cooled off. I'm not going to keep buying fish only to have them die because of town politics. I will do my best to keep the critters I have alive and safe, but if I lose them which at this rate the odds are against me, the 40B will be turned into a planted tank with no critters.

Depending on what the results come back as from the state lab, things may get ugly with the town before they get better...
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post #4 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-17-2016, 04:21 PM
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This sounds like a very bad well for any use other than livestock. If it is affected by surface activity, it is not a properly drilled and cased well. Well casing should extend down well past any level where surface action disturbs it. Have you had the well checked for safety and construction? If it's a bad well, it's a bad well and not the cities fault. Simple water tests are not likely to find poor construction.

Have you considered the extreme low KH may not be good for the fish you keep?

Last edited by PlantedRich; 08-17-2016 at 04:23 PM. Reason: added
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post #5 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-17-2016, 06:56 PM Thread Starter
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This sounds like a very bad well for any use other than livestock. If it is affected by surface activity, it is not a properly drilled and cased well. Well casing should extend down well past any level where surface action disturbs it. Have you had the well checked for safety and construction? If it's a bad well, it's a bad well and not the cities fault. Simple water tests are not likely to find poor construction.

Have you considered the extreme low KH may not be good for the fish you keep?

If it's a bad well, my neighbors that built a house across the street less than 10 years ago also have a bad well as I went over and asked them for some water so I could test it. Low and behold, they have the same amount of ammonia in their water as I do mine.

Yes I am aware of the KH issue. However, in all the years I've been keeping fish in this house it has never caused daily deaths.
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post #6 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-17-2016, 11:32 PM
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Since each state is in charge of controlling pollution and that usually involves the way wells are drilled, do you know if the two wells were designed and approved by somebody? The point is that surface work like sidewalk construction should not change the underground water source. If the source is polluted then there is likely to be a major problem and it really needs to be checked.
Minimum well requirements usually have specs on how deep the well casing has to extend into the ground as well as how high out of the normal surface water level they should be. Since surface water is almost always unsafe to drink, one of the main design points on wells has to be keeping surface runoff action separated from the underground water. Older wells that were built before any type of regulation can often be poorly designed and can change at the drop of a hat.
But a well that is well designed and drilled will not be bothered by something as low level as sidewall building.
When I hear of sudden deaths that are repeated, I am more inclined to look for the simple things that I may have missed. Something as simple as ammonia that is a constant should have bacteria built up to handle that extra load. Somewhat like doing a cycle only the ammonia is coming from the water instead of being out of a bottle. However, I can easily see a dead fish in the tank in some hidden spot can be a sudden death spiral for the rest of the tank.
Do the fish who are still living indicate that they are having ammonia problems?
Another potential that is showing up in unexpected places is the earthquakes which seem to be related to fracking. That is one thing that can suddenly open wells to different types of pollution. Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas were never known to have earthquakes until the last few years. Do you happen to live in an area where that has been happening?
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post #7 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-17-2016, 11:42 PM
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I'm confused on how Prime isn't working here. The fact you have detected 1 ppm in the tanks and tap seems to indicate that Prime isn't doing anything. That doesn't seem likely unless, as PlantedRich points out, there is something decomposing in the tank. There must be something else going on here beyond the ammonia in the tap.
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post #8 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-18-2016, 02:03 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by PlantedRich View Post
Since each state is in charge of controlling pollution and that usually involves the way wells are drilled, do you know if the two wells were designed and approved by somebody? The point is that surface work like sidewalk construction should not change the underground water source. If the source is polluted then there is likely to be a major problem and it really needs to be checked.
Minimum well requirements usually have specs on how deep the well casing has to extend into the ground as well as how high out of the normal surface water level they should be. Since surface water is almost always unsafe to drink, one of the main design points on wells has to be keeping surface runoff action separated from the underground water. Older wells that were built before any type of regulation can often be poorly designed and can change at the drop of a hat.
But a well that is well designed and drilled will not be bothered by something as low level as sidewall building.
When I hear of sudden deaths that are repeated, I am more inclined to look for the simple things that I may have missed. Something as simple as ammonia that is a constant should have bacteria built up to handle that extra load. Somewhat like doing a cycle only the ammonia is coming from the water instead of being out of a bottle. However, I can easily see a dead fish in the tank in some hidden spot can be a sudden death spiral for the rest of the tank.
Do the fish who are still living indicate that they are having ammonia problems?
Another potential that is showing up in unexpected places is the earthquakes which seem to be related to fracking. That is one thing that can suddenly open wells to different types of pollution. Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas were never known to have earthquakes until the last few years. Do you happen to live in an area where that has been happening?
Here is what I can tell you.

Fish are not showing any kind of stress. They're not gasping, they don't have clamped fins, all of them are eating as they normally do, ect..

There is no dead fish. None of the tanks are over stocked and I do head counts every morning when I get up and before I go to bed. I just did rounds after water changes and everybody is okay, for now.

For a water bridge until I figure out what is going on and what I'm going to do, I'm using spring and distilled water as I'm still on the hunt for RO water. I didn't have any luck today and spent all afternoon looking. All new water has been tested and it's clean. If nothing else, I won't be adding more ammonia to the problem. The water is soft, but it is being re-mineralized.

I do not leave dead plant material laying around. Any leaf debris is cleaned out, and since I vacuum all the tanks once a week, if there is the occasional dead leaf, it isn't in the tank or tanks for long.

Before starting work on sidewalks, the entire drainage system under the road was taken apart and re-done. The water table is now screwed up as where water never used to pool before, pools now. Whether this has any bearing on the situation, I don't know. I do know that the drains that once worked no longer do.

While the state has specific levels of various things that are deemed 'acceptable', it is up to the local Board of Health to look into the problem when they are called. Until I have a water report, in hand from the lab, they are going to continue to blow me off because 'it's not their problem.'

I don't have a problem with stepping on toes if need be. When I have a report in hand and should I see things are completely out of whack and the town still refuses to look into it, then I'll go directly to the state. If I can't get anywhere then, I'll continue to go up the chain of command until somebody listens.

There has been no earthquakes, I don't live in a area where there is fracking, ect... The only thing that has been going on here is lack of rain. I don't know if that has anything to do with all of this either. This is not the first dry summer we've had, but I suppose anything is possible.

It could be that the ammonia levels I'm finding are only part of a bigger problem. Plants don't melt and die just from ammonia.

A question for anybody that knows. Is there is a point where ammonium becomes toxic? The ammonium levels from my tap are off the charts via the Seachem ammonia test kit. That kit allows for testing of free ammonia and total ammonia.
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post #9 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-18-2016, 02:53 AM
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Something I have learned in the Matrix w/o Seachem thread was when you use Prime (or something similar), the process of making chlorine non toxic also creates ammonia. It is a 1 to 1 ratio (if i remember the article correctly). So, if you normally have 2ppm chlorine / chloramine in your tap water you would end up with that much ammonia (ammonium??). I guess the point of all this is if they added more chemicals to the water to deal with the construction, you could be generating more ammonia after adding Prime (or what ever you are using).

What level does ammonia become toxic - good question. Maybe a better question is "how long of an exposure to x.xxppm ammonia does it take to harm fish?" I am guessing, like anything else, a small spike of ammonia can be dealt with. Being exposed to a slightly lower level ammonia for days on end - now that could be a real problem.


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post #10 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-18-2016, 02:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Immortal1 View Post
Something I have learned in the Matrix w/o Seachem thread was when you use Prime (or something similar), the process of making chlorine non toxic also creates ammonia. It is a 1 to 1 ratio (if i remember the article correctly). So, if you normally have 2ppm chlorine / chloramine in your tap water you would end up with that much ammonia (ammonium??). I guess the point of all this is if they added more chemicals to the water to deal with the construction, you could be generating more ammonia after adding Prime (or what ever you are using).

What level does ammonia become toxic - good question. Maybe a better question is "how long of an exposure to x.xxppm ammonia does it take to harm fish?" I am guessing, like anything else, a small spike of ammonia can be dealt with. Being exposed to a slightly lower level ammonia for days on end - now that could be a real problem.
Most dechlorinators leave behind ammonia, but Prime neutralizes it. I guess it holds though that if there's already ammonia in the water, and the Prime is attempting to detoxify both that and the ammonia that it releases from the chloramines, more than usual might be necessary.
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post #11 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-18-2016, 03:01 AM Thread Starter
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Something I have learned in the Matrix w/o Seachem thread was when you use Prime (or something similar), the process of making chlorine non toxic also creates ammonia. It is a 1 to 1 ratio (if i remember the article correctly). So, if you normally have 2ppm chlorine / chloramine in your tap water you would end up with that much ammonia (ammonium??). I guess the point of all this is if they added more chemicals to the water to deal with the construction, you could be generating more ammonia after adding Prime (or what ever you are using).

What level does ammonia become toxic - good question. Maybe a better question is "how long of an exposure to x.xxppm ammonia does it take to harm fish?" I am guessing, like anything else, a small spike of ammonia can be dealt with. Being exposed to a slightly lower level ammonia for days on end - now that could be a real problem.
I have well water. There is no chlorine or there shouldn't be. I've never tested for it as I never saw the need for it. I started using Prime again to detox any possible heavy metals that may be in the water. To test for those is $500.00.

Either way, it's been frustrating and it sucks. I wake up with the feeling of dread and wondering who died during the night.
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post #12 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-18-2016, 03:12 AM
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Ah, was wondering if you have a well. In your first post you mentioned "from the tap" and I assumed city water. Later you mentioned earthquakes or fracking so I thought maybe a well.
Ok, your on a well - where the F are you getting these water problems from all of the sudden?


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post #13 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-18-2016, 10:35 AM Thread Starter
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Ok, your on a well - where the F are you getting these water problems from all of the sudden?
If I knew, I'd post it.

To be honest, I'm not sure if I'll ever know with absolute certainty. If I were to sit and think about all the things that go into the ground, my water is toxic. Not just to fish, to everything.

My neighbors have chemical ferts sprayed on their lawns to keep them green.

The house across the street became the local junkyard that sat that way for the 7 years while the people owned it, and another 4 years after the owners abandoned it. It took 2 30 yard dumpsters being empited daily for a week to clean up the mess. That did not include all the junk cars that had to be dragged out in a flat bed. The only reason that disaster was cleaned up is because the bank owns it and they are tired of losing money on it.

What little agriculture is here, that too sees no shortage of chemicals, ferts, ect...

My goal at least at the moment is to stop the deaths. This morning I'm being greeted by hungry fish from all 3 tanks and nobody died during the night. This is a improvement.

Last time I used Prime was almost 24 hours ago and all the tanks are coming up ammonia free. I'll be checking them again this afternoon.

No more tap water for my tanks while we're living here at least. It's not worth it.
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post #14 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-18-2016, 02:21 PM
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It is too simple too just look around the local area to see where pollution might be coming from. The point of wells being designed and drilled correctly is too separate surface water from underground water. I might think of it as multiple layers of different media types.
If you had layers of filter floss, sponge, then a metal plate and then a sponge with really large holes we might be somewhat close to the underground but only in some areas. Every area has a different underground so the wells have to be different to work. A half block down the road can be different, so the driller has to be well trained.
But the point is that we can pour gunk like oil on the surface and it may go down through the floss and sponge but not get to the bottom large open area due to the metal plate. That's where we want to get the water as it is more likely to be clean.
The flaws show up in areas where there were lots of deep wells drilled and no regulation. If you punch enough holes in that metal plate, you get mixing ,even in the lowest areas and wells are bad if there is enough pollution.
You don't necessarily drink the water from your neighborhood. You are more likely to be drawing it from under the steel plate and it comes from the next state over!
I don't mean this in literal terms but just general easy-speak?
Acid rain is somewhat the same. The acid rain that kills trees in Canada is not from Canada, but more likely from Ohio or Illinois!
We all live downstream from somebody and we need to learn to keep the water and air clean and hope we can get them to do the same.
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post #15 of 82 (permalink) Old 08-20-2016, 12:16 PM Thread Starter
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I'm posting pictures in this thread just so I don't have to repeat what the situation is. Note: Fish are doing much better and I've added ammonia remover to all tanks. I had to order a new Seachem ammonia kit. It will be here next week, so we'll see what the numbers are then. API says I don't have any ammonia. I'm not even going to go start about that....

Yesterday the 5.5 and 10 gallon got a good cleaning and 50% water change. Today I tackle the 29. It's ugly, but there are good things happening with the introduction of clean water.

It has been a long time since I've had issues with diatoms. Do they turn black when they die off or am I dealing with something else on the Brazilian Pennywort? Whatever it is, it isn't fuzzy like black beard algae. It looks like necrotic tissue. All of it will be removed regardless of what it is.

Yes, my swords are a mess which I've already mentioned. They are getting cleaned up and trimmed.

Then there is the good thing aside from my fish feeling better. My crypts are spreading. I have never seen this in my tanks. They've always grown tall, but have never spread out. Clean water must doing something good...

Last edited by Smooch; 09-16-2016 at 12:51 AM.
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