Trying to understand my water parameters - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-09-2019, 01:51 AM Thread Starter
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Trying to understand my water parameters

Got a new API test kit. Finally can test my water and see what's going on.


My 29 gal is heavily planted, low tech, long running tank. The 10 gal has only been running a couple months, only a few plants, low tech. Both are light to moderately stocked. No CO2. Water changes every week to couple weeks, about 30%. I use mostly well water, some RO (maybe 25-50% RO, depends on the day and how much I have on hand).


Tried to make the number columns line up so its a bit easier to read , hope that doesn't add confusion:


Well water 10 gallon 29 gallon
GH ___ 16 __ 10 ____ 10
KH ___ 15 __ 10 ____ 9
pH ___ 7.2 _ 8.0 ___ 8.0
ammonia 0 __ 0.25 ppm 0.25ppm
nitrite 0 __ 0 _____ 0
nitrate 20 _ 20 ____ 40


I am especially wondering, what's going on with my pH? Why do my aquariums have a high pH when the water I am adding is much lower pH? I know that pH can swing in a planted tank, but does it swing THIS much? Is my test kit wrong? (I double checked with the old, years -expired test kit, it reads pretty close to the new, so I don't really think this is the answer)


I had recently added new fish to the tanks and increased bioload, thus the ammonia readings (mini-cycle). I am adding Prime to balance that out until the biofilter catches up with the new stocking density.
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-09-2019, 03:21 AM
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I might guess/ question what decor might be in the tank to raise the PH? No concrete castles, etc.? Rising PH makes me look at things in the tank which might be leaching into the water. Limestone perhaps?
The tested ammonia brings a question that you may need to think about, depending on how the well water is treated. Is this water from a big company that might be chloramine treated? If so, the reading may be the way Prime "locks up" the ammonia from chloramine treatment as ammonium. The ammonium which is safe can show up as ammonia on our hobby level testing. If personal well water and not treated with chloramine, forget this theory!!!
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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-09-2019, 04:02 AM
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In tank without CO2 I have seen the PH increase with lights on. But when the lights turn off the PH slowly goes down until it reaches its lowest point just before the lights turn back on. If you checked your PH with the lights on I would try checking it in the early morning before the lights come on.

It is well known that CO2 injection will cause the PH to grow down. I believe the issue is that plants will start to consume carbonate when there is not enough CO2 in the water. When that happens calcium carbonate will be converTed to calcium hydroxide which will push the PH up. The same will happen with other carbonates such as potassium bicarbonates and magnesium carbonate.Then when the lights turn off the hydroxides will react with CO2 from the air and convert back to carbonates.

When I first saw this I was able to solve the issue by dimming my lights. With less light the plant growth will slow and that will allow CO2 to stay more stable. I now have CO2 on the tank i have also found that if the CO2 is too low the PH will again go up. But when I increase the CO2 the PH stays stable or drops.
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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-09-2019, 05:06 AM
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Did you measure pH in the fresh well water? If so, let it sit for 24 hours in some bucket and measure again. Underground (and tap, and simply cold) water can have more dissolved CO2 in it which will make it more acidic until excess of CO2 dissipates.
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-09-2019, 12:43 PM Thread Starter
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This is well water, it is not treated with chlorine/chloramine/etc.

There are a few rocks in the 29 gal tank, but they are not limestone. There is also a large piece of manzanita driftwood. There are no rocks at all in the 10 gal tank. Both have the same pH.

Yes, I did measure the pH in fresh well water. I will try again after letting it sit awhile and see what happens. That may be the answer.

Yes, I also measured the pH at the end of the day. The lights were off, but had recently turned off. I will try again in the morning and see if things change.

I re-tested the ammonia on RO water, well water, and both tanks. I did the tanks first, and thought it again was 0.25 ppm. To my eye, it seems to have a faint hint of green. But when I tested the well and RO water, they were very obviously the same as the tank water. So I think it is the lighting, or my eyes, but probably all are 0 for ammonia. I simply can't imagine there being ammonia in the RO water (I think it is pretty unlikely for the well water, too). I just see that color as being a little bit greenish, but it must be yellow.

Last edited by Darkblade48; 05-23-2019 at 12:25 AM. Reason: Please use the edit function for back to back posts to keep threads cleaner
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-09-2019, 02:20 PM
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A point that may be missing is also something to consider to see how you feel about it. I know that PH is one of the biggest items we read about when we start the game but then as I have gone along, I now do not worry it very much as it seems to be something to know but not really be too concerned about as it can create all kinds of stress over a simple number that I don't find very important!
Step one is to know that our testing is done with pretty low grade hobby materials, so some misleading numbers are always possible, so throw some shade on things that don't fit?
Two is knowing that CO2 injection does change the reading and that is where we try to get the "correct" amount of CO2 in our tank by looking for a full one point drop in PH. When a drop checker color changes, it is because we are assuming one point of PH drop. But is that drop terribly important, other than as an indication of how much CO2 we are running? I find it is not!
I would not expect my case to be terribly unusual as I am not doing anything that hundreds of others are not doing, so let me tell you how my outlook on PH has come about.
I was breeding multiple types of African cichlids of different types from the smallish mbuna to the larger open water Protomelas types before getting involved with live plants. One of the first things to read about African cichlids is that they absolutely REQUIRE hard alkaline water and than means high PH. My tap is 7.8/8.0 and above 300PPM of GH/KH but when I add CO2 and drive the PH down to 6.8 the fish keep breeding and do not care! As long as the PH is stable, they do not seem affected and only show signs of stress when I move females from low PH to high or back again. I do this frequently due to the fish being one which holds the fry in their mouth, making it simple to net the holding female to move to another tank for better fry count. I now find it worthwhile to work more to set the holding (spitout?) tank PH closer to the main tank when moving them as they do act somewhat stressed if I don't pay attention. Otherwise, I ignore the PH as the hardness seems much more important to my fish.
Perhaps move the PH down in your list of concerns?
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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-09-2019, 03:00 PM Thread Starter
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My primary concern is to make sure nothing is blatantly wrong in my tank. I want to create the healthiest environment possible for my fish. One of my mystery snails is having some trouble with flaking on its shell (although that may be from before I got it, I have only had it a couple months) and a couple of my new fish died in the first few days. I want to make sure the water conditions are good for them.

Also, if the water conditions are not good for them, perhaps there is a better species of fish for me to keep or way for me to set up my tank. It does seem like there are a number of reasons for me to get my water for water change ready a day ahead of time.

No, I am not terribly concerned about the exact number. But my results weren't making sense, I wasn't sure why the pH would be so much higher in the tank than in well water. If it is a normal physiologic change, that is fine with me.
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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-09-2019, 06:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by naturelady View Post
I re-tested the ammonia on RO water, well water, and both tanks. I did the tanks first, and thought it again was 0.25 ppm. To my eye, it seems to have a faint hint of green. But when I tested the well and RO water, they were very obviously the same as the tank water. So I think it is the lighting, or my eyes, but probably all are 0 for ammonia. I simply can't imagine there being ammonia in the RO water (I think it is pretty unlikely for the well water, too). I just see that color as being a little bit greenish, but it must be yellow.
It is notoriously hard to distinguish NH3 between 0 and 0.25 in the API test kit for everyone. I wouldn't worry about it, if your tank is even moderately planted what little NH3 might have been there will be taken up by the plants or by the cycle.

You aren't adding CO2 and have a sparsely planted tank so I don't understand what people are talking about above you shouldn't be seeing pH fluctuations.

You should measure your Tap water after leaving it to sit in a cup for two days, same with RO water, there may be dissolved gases(CO2) lowering the pH and once they are released the pH rises.

If not it might be something in your substrate or in the rocks raising the pH but I would test the above first.
You can test that by taking some substrate out into a cup for a couple of days and then measure pH. You could do the same with the rocks, scratch them a bit in a cup with tap water and then measure in a couple of days.

You can always add more fast growing plants or floating plants, they will take Ammonia out of the water quickly to prevent any cycles for future fish additions.


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Last edited by cl3537; 05-09-2019 at 06:52 PM. Reason: .....
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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-09-2019, 10:55 PM
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Got to agree with any person who really WANTS to do right by the fish they have, no disagreement there! But if it is a somewhat new project, finding HOW is tricky as so much of the info we read is not quite what I find and some of the major points stressed are often more designed to sell products than to help keep fish alive. One major reason for this is that we don't all have the same water, same fish and that leaves any specific numbers to be wrong in some cases.
So maybe now would be a good time to do some looking at what fish and why they might be dying. There are times when I just don't see the forest for the trees?
It looks like you have pretty decent water,maybe a bit on the hard side but the hard water may be giving more trouble than the PH. Just throwing in ideas without knowing what fish you are dealing with but I might also throw in that some fish are definitely easier to die than others. Those who breed fast and easy tend to also die real easy. Kind of like rabbits? They breed so much that they have to die quick or we would be covered in rabbits!
There are small delicate fish and there are more hardy/tougher fish and sometimes just a switch in fish is the quicker, easier way to be successful.
Sorry, don't mean to talk down on your problems but I do find my cichlids give me far less problems than the smaller delicate types. Perhaps some info on the fish types would let folks give more correct info to help.
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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-10-2019, 02:19 AM Thread Starter
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The fish that died were pygmy corydoras. I was surprised to lose 3 out of 12, given that they had a relatively short trip (bagged for 4 or 5 hours total) and the LFS I got them from had them for several weeks before I got them, and they were doing very well there. Under other circumstances, I would not have been surprised by that level of loss for that kind of fish. Everything else I got from there (pleco, amano shrimp, mystery snails) are doing fine. So it indeed may be the water.

Another part of why I was looking into this is I now have 2 tanks and a variety of fish, shrimp & snails. I was trying to think of some more logical ways to separate everything out. I do have some RO water I can use, if my water parameters aren't great for certain fish. So if one tank stayed hard water, the other a little bit softer. Or maybe the water is okay across the board and I will divide up by what makes sense for ease of feeding, or whatever.

I have thought about cichlids, but didn't think they were very compatible with plants.
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post #11 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-22-2019, 07:10 PM
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I have been questioning test kits this week, and found this thread talking about water parameters! I have the API test kit, but also noticed that Fluval sells a "wide range" pH test kit, that tests a range from 4.5-9. Has anyone used this one? I know that no test kit is perfect, and we are subject to misreading any of them. But, I feel that I can't accurately judge what is accurate and what is not, when in regard to water parameters, because of test inconsistencies. I tend to judge my tank health more from plant status (what the leaves look like) and how the fish are acting. If I see an anomoly I will test, but otherwise, things tend stay pretty balanced. Maybe that's just my ignorance?

Regarding cichlids and plants, I think that it depends on the setup - I had South American Cichlids in a 75 gallon that was pretty heavily planted on one side an along the back, but allowed enough of a sandy "beach" along the left front for them to sift. The tank housed a gold severum, 3 geophageus, and a pair of Flag Cichlids. That tank did great with a huge Amazon sword, a forest of jungle val, and some other hearty plants that are heavy root feeders (at least in that tank they were). I'v also heard of some people actually potting their plants, and placing the pot in the tank. More aggressive cichlids may not do as well, though.

Last edited by CatsMeow; 05-22-2019 at 07:20 PM. Reason: Added link
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