PH crash. Fish in. Help. - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old 03-18-2018, 09:08 AM Thread Starter
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Question PH crash. Fish in. Help.

Hi all. I've been reading posts on aquarium hobbyists forums for years, but never posted. I have never been much of a plant grower since I kept pleco and silver dollars, but have learned that when it comes to water chemistry questions, this forum is the best source. The quality of discussion and the detail and reasoning provided beats any other boards I've lurked.
Unfortunately, it's my time to ask for help.

I have 16g bow front with eheim 2215 kept at 78F 10-15% water changes weekly. A bunch of hygrophila polysperma, anubias and Java fern. No CO2, I'm not a plant grower. This is a temporary setup I made of my ex-QT/fry tank. I kept it for ~ 2 years while the family was on the move. I was planning to upgrade once we settle. It was stocked with 5 upside-down catfish and 6 rummy nose tetras just to keep it going. This is a story of neglect, which I fully acknowledge. My fault. I often did top ups instead of water changes. I did not test the water until the first casualties. And even then I did not do it fully. I have API Master test kit. It is not expired.

We finally settled and I started preparations for an upgrade. First I changed the tubing that was old and stiff. This was accompanied by 50% water change as I decided to clean the equipment as well. This has killed most of the fish overnight. Only from that point I started testing water. Being spoiled by 150 g tank and excellent quality of tap water in the past I went careless. Ammonia was slightly below 2ppm. No nitrites. I did not check nitrates or PH then. The rest of the fish followed in the next couple of days despite water changes. I thought I somehow screwed up while cleaning.

So, I fishless cycled the tank anew with ammonia. Took about 8 weeks, but with ammonia/nitrite/nitrate test results went by the book. Full water change, and we let in our first young angel. Next week added 7 glowlight tetras. All good, happy fish with great appetites. No testing anymore, because - why? (I know, stupid). Next week new media for the filter arrives (upgrade, remember). I have replaced about a quarter of it and washed the rest in tank/treated water, which was accompanied by at least 50 % water change. Next morning all tetras are dead, angel hungover and gasping at the top. Ammonia ~0.25 ppm. I thought I somehow screwed up while cleaning x2. But ammonia did not come back the next morning, 0 nitrites. I let the dust settle for another week and tested again 0/0/5.

Added another angel, waited a week 0/0/5, waited a week, added 8 black corys .25/0/10! Changed 25% of water to help the BB in the filter to pick up. Next day 1/0/5. &*%$#?! All fish feeling great. Active and hungry. Only then I managed to check PH - it was unreadable. Tap water is stable 7, our water is excellent and one of the best in the world. It's been like this for 2 weeks now - ammonia reading fluctuating 0.25-1/ stable 0 nitrites/ stable 5 nitrates. Corys get excited with every water change but no change in PH reading. I change 5% of water every second day for now.

My guess, this is what I got for expecting an overkill filter to sort out my messes. PH crashed, and filter turned into nothing but pump. Or at least I think so now.

Question 1. Do I understand situation correctly and this current setup is a ticking bomb, waiting for the tipping point when water changes bring PH up and ammonium becomes ammonia killing all the fish? I still get nitrates reading despite all water changes since PH crash. Can the cycle still be happening just very slow?
Question 2. Can I try and bring this tank back to normal just by careful small daily water changes? Each water change should slightly increase PH and therefore get the BB back to work, if any have survived. But there will be a race between ammonia toxicity and BB productivity I can hardly imagine.
Question 3. If the setup is not recoverable with fish in it, can I leave it like this for a couple of month until the new tank is cycled? I mean small water changes/top ups twice a week.
Question 4. What the ... has happened? I don't get why PH would do this twice. It might have been me neglecting water changes the first time, but second time? And on newly cycled tank. I am lost.

I appreciate any comments/suggestions/recommendation. Thank you.

Last edited by NorthOfM; 03-18-2018 at 10:26 AM. Reason: grammar
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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-05-2018, 08:07 AM Thread Starter
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An update in case someone with similar issue comes across this. BB are not dead at all. Three days ago changed a fine pad in the filter and threw it in a bucket with a small power head, a heater at 86F and some limestone, added ammonia to ~2ppm, covered and left. Yesterday ammonia less than 0.25, nitrite between 1 and 2. Added ammonia to 2 ppm. Today: nitrite ~0.25, nitrate ~10ppm. This is nothing like dead bacteria. They are very much alive and happy ones, if they are provided with ideal conditions.
The tank itself is weirdly stable: 0 nitrites and even nitrates are not showing anymore, just a slight greenish hint on ammonia test, when compared to tap water, less then 0.25. I suspect that hygrophila is doing most of filtration. Will keep playing. I am really tempted to put a bit of limestone in. Should I?
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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-05-2018, 10:07 AM
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What are the rest of your water parameters? I imagine the issue with your previous tank was 'old tank syndrome' over time you run out of KH, your PH drops, your nitrates rise. When you do a massive water change almost every parameter changes massively and shocks the fish. Big cleans also risk releasing more waste into the water that was previously settled out in the gravel etc.

What are you getting out of the tap in terms of GH and KH? If there are very low your water will be less stable and adding GH/KH booster may help. Are you treating the water with dechlorinator?
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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-05-2018, 11:12 AM Thread Starter
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GH/KH test kit arrived today, glad you asked. Out of tap GH 35.8 ppm KH 17.9 ppm. Checked our water provider report too, KH value correct, they show 18. I thought the KH test was faulty, had to test the water from the bucket with limestone in it to see that it can show different results. It does. Test is working. Does this mean my tap water has low buffers and I need to add some?

Will limestone do? It brings KH up slightly to about 54 (with bacteria working like crazy in the bucket), but drives GH up to 179.

Please excuse my ignorance, never had to go to such depth before. But now I know, why elephant noses were so happy in my tank a few years ago.

And, yes I add API Stress coat.
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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-06-2018, 04:53 AM
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If fish are stressed, its nitrite or ammonia, not pH..
Fix that and don't even check pH til your cycled


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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-06-2018, 06:36 AM
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Quote:
GH/KH test kit arrived today, glad you asked. Out of tap GH 35.8 ppm KH 17.9 ppm. Checked our water provider report too, KH value correct, they show 18. I thought the KH test was faulty, had to test the water from the bucket with limestone in it to see that it can show different results. It does. Test is working. Does this mean my tap water has low buffers and I need to add some?
Do use any fertilizer? Please list everything you add to the water.

You tap is almost pure rain water or your utility has a RO water production facility. With water this soft you will need to use a GH booster. You simply don't have enough calcium and magnesium in he water. Also you don't list what you are using for a fertilizer. You water is so soft that it is probably laking a lot of other nutrients plants and bacteria need. If you are getting plant growth it is because the plants are getting them from your substrate. With your KH so low your PH will not be stable.

If you tank do not have CO2 injection I would put some some dolomite in your filter. Dolomite is a mineral made up of mainly calcium and magnesium carbonate. If you cannot get dolomite you could use limestone or crushed coral instead. Limestone is mainly calcium carbonate. It is better to have a mix of magnesium or calcium carbonate if possible. But if you cannot get dolomite limestone or crushed coral will work. carbonate rock does not dissolve in water with a PH of 7 or higher. However if the water becomes acidic it will react with the acid in the water and start to dissolve. When it dissolves it will push the PH up.

I use old snail shells in my aquarium and the PH is typically stable between 6.5 and 7. When it does dissolve it will push your GH and KH up. The GH and KH increase will probably be around 2 to 3 degrees. 1/4 cup of carbonate rock can be left in the tank all the time and it would be enough to stabilize the PH for years.

Note if you are injecting CO2 into your water you cannot leave carbonate rock in your tank. If you did leave it in the tank it would continuously dissolve and will have a major effect on GH and KH. Many people with CO2 injection add measured amount of sodium bicarbonate. Unlike carbonate rock it dissolves easily and can push the PH up above 7 or 8 depending on the amount added. It will boost KH but have no effect on GH.

For the fish you have mentioned you probably want add a GH booster to your water to to keep the GH stable between 4 an 6. I would recommend a sulfate based GH booster like sachem equilibrium GH booster are primarily made from calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, and potassium sulfate. Some GH boosters also include sodium bicarbonate to also increase KH. But my recommendation for a none CO2 injected tank is carbonate rock instead of a KH booster.

In addition to the GH booster you will need a good plant fertilizer to keep your plants alive. A good one is thrive available at Nilocg.com as well as other places.
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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-06-2018, 09:43 AM
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I'd go for a GH/KH booster you add as liquid/powder. That way you can add a set amount each time you water change. The trouble with just using limestone/coral etc. is you can't control the degree of change and you'll get fluctuation every time you add fresh water, particularly with big changes.

Any of the salts designed for remineralising RO water would work, Surf's suggestion of Seachem Equilibrium is a popular one. I think that's just GH, so you might want to add KH too - I think Seachem have some calculators on their website so you can work out how much of what to add.

You should find that then makes your ph much more stable and your plants may even grow better
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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-08-2018, 11:51 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chlorophile View Post
If fish are stressed, its nitrite or ammonia, not pH..
Fix that and don't even check pH til your cycled
Not stressed. Happy and active. Angels fight and bag for food constantly, corys are poking around all the time and are dancing after every water change. Actually last 5 days it is 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites, 0 nitrates.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Surf View Post
Do use any fertilizer? Please list everything you add to the water.
Seachem Fluorish and API Leaf Zone weekly, Seachem root tabs under sword and hygro.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Surf View Post
You tap is almost pure rain water or your utility has a RO water production facility. With water this soft you will need to use a GH booster. You simply don't have enough calcium and magnesium in he water. Also you don't list what you are using for a fertilizer. You water is so soft that it is probably laking a lot of other nutrients plants and bacteria need. If you are getting plant growth it is because the plants are getting them from your substrate. With your KH so low your PH will not be stable.
Spot on. Rain water. Substrate is plain inert 1-2mm gravel with root tabs under rooted plants.
One mystery left is how I managed to get a forest of Java fern and had angels and corys breeding in my old large tank without any water supplements with the exact same tap water? Never cared for PH until this recent disaster.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Surf View Post
If you tank do not have CO2 injection
No CO2 for now as I have weak fluorescent tubes for light. But I am planning to move into a small but nice upgraded 32 gal setup in the next couple of weeks, for which I thought liquid API CO2 booster. Is it going to cause same issues with carbonate rock as real CO2? I think I know where I can get some dolomite, just want to make sure, it's worth the effort.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tamsin View Post
I'd go for a GH/KH booster you add as liquid/powder.
Yes, I may end up there. I'm sure my local shop stocks Equilibrium. What's left is teaching my other half to use that too, while I'm away. Temperature and de-chlor were a challenge, now THIS.

Bump: Thanks all for the replies. I feel like I am getting out of the woods. My concern now is will I shock the fish when adjusting PH?

Last edited by Darkblade48; 04-10-2018 at 03:04 AM. Reason: Please use the edit function for back to back posts to keep threads cleaner
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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-08-2018, 04:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NorthOfM View Post
Yes, I may end up there. I'm sure my local shop stocks Equilibrium. What's left is teaching my other half to use that too, while I'm away. Temperature and de-chlor were a challenge, now THIS.

Bump: Thanks all for the replies. I feel like I am getting out of the woods. My concern now is will I shock the fish when adjusting PH?
Don't worry about pH. That's not what fish are not sensitive to. You hear that thrown around so much because it was the only way we really had to estimate carbonate hardness (KH) back in the early days of the hobby.

KH affects osmoregulation, so dramatic changes to that are what we're really concerned with. Many people swing over a 1 point pH drop within an hour due to CO2 injection which doesn't have fish or even some shrimp. This is much different than changing KH that quickly.
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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-09-2018, 09:32 AM Thread Starter
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KH affects osmoregulation, so dramatic changes to that are what we're really concerned with.
Gotcha. Thanks. I was thinking along those lines myself. Will make sure it's a slow change.
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post #11 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-09-2018, 07:54 PM
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Seachem Fluorish and API Leaf Zone weekly, Seachem root tabs under sword and hygro.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Surf View Post
You tap is almost pure rain water or your utility has a RO water production facility. With water this soft you will need to use a GH booster. You simply don't have enough calcium and magnesium in he water. Also you don't list what you are using for a fertilizer. You water is so soft that it is probably laking a lot of other nutrients plants and bacteria need. If you are getting plant growth it is because the plants are getting them from your substrate. With your KH so low your PH will not be stable.
Spot on. Rain water. Substrate is plain inert 1-2mm gravel with root tabs under rooted plants.
One mystery left is how I managed to get a forest of Java fern and had angels and corys breeding in my old large tank without any water supplements with the exact same tap water? Never cared for PH until this recent disaster.
API leaf zone contains just iron and potassium. That is only 2 of the 14 nutrients plants need. Equilibrium (which is just sold as a GH booster) has sulfur, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, and potassium. I would discard the leaf zone. The equilibrium is good start.

Your root tabs will help the rooted plants by fertilizing the substrate. Most of the substrate nutrients will stay in the substrate. You need a good fertilizer for the water column. I would recommend Thrive for your water column (available at nilocg.com.). Thrive plus equilibrium and your root tabs should be all you need.
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post #12 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-01-2018, 10:01 AM Thread Starter
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Thought I'll make an update for those who use this forum's archive and may benefit from knowing the final solution.
Water parameters stabilized within 2 weeks after I started using GH booster. Since then PH is hovering just below 6.5, no detectable ammonia or nitrites. Upgrade went painless. I'm not growing anything fancy, but every plant I've put in so far thrives. Fish are doing great too.
Thanks a lot.
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post #13 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-01-2018, 11:55 AM
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Glad to hear you got it sorted
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