Municipal Water Supply and Odd Readings - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-04-2020, 09:17 PM Thread Starter
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Municipal Water Supply and Odd Readings

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I've got some weird stuff going on in my 20 gallon tank. I've tested my municipal water supply, the tank, and used distilled water as a control. I can't make heads or tails of the situation.

Specs: 5 cory catfish, 2 nerite snails, plants dosed every other day with excel and I have root tabs.

pH: 7.8, gh: 7

What's weird is that I'm at a constant less than/equal to .25ppm ammonia, but the municipal supply from all my taps rocks a solid 1ppm of ammonia. The tank also has 0 nitrites but 5-10ppm nitrates; a reading that matches municipal water. I cycled the tank for a few weeks and failed, so went ahead and picked up seachem's Stability and did their recommended dosage for a week with livestock. The fish seem very happy, active, and have a voracious appetite. The only exception is these fish are bobbing vertically with their mouths at the surface from time to time but seem to be doing it on purpose, not because they're struggling to swim.

My question is wtf is going on with my water. As I understand it, water conditioner breaks the ammonia and chlorine/chloramine bond, leaving ammonia behind. But this doesn't explain why my nitrites are absent, ammonia is lower than the supply, and I've read up on it but I'm having a hard time interpreting the data. The tank has been set up for going on a month now.

"What we learn to do, we learn by doing." - Aristotle (385-325 BCE)

Last edited by WaterWelder; 05-04-2020 at 09:19 PM. Reason: Updated tank size
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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-04-2020, 09:33 PM
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It's possible that your 0.25 ppm ammonia level is because your test kit is picking up the non harmful ammonium after your dechlorinator product temporarily binds the ammonia.

Some people use the Seachem Ammonia Alert in their tank as a secondary check to help differentiate between the harmful ammonia and non harmful ammonium.

You should have zero nitrites regardless of the ammonia level in your tap water.

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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-04-2020, 10:01 PM
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Yep, if your bacteria isnít converting nitrite to nitrate as fast as it being produced by AOB then your cycle is not complete. Also at your PH very little of your nitrogen exists as ammonium, below 6.8PH almost all of it exists as ammonium, the higher the PH gets the more it converts to ammonia, which is way more lethal to fish.

If your tap contains ammonia compounds youíd be better off to dose water with prime etc, break the bonds then aerate for a few hours to drive off ammonia from water. Then lightly dose with dechlor again right before you do water change. With your high PH the less ammonia compounds you can dump into tank the better off youíll be.

Iím also seeing a stagnant film covered water surface in your picture, the film will prevent ammonia from escaping. Get more surface agitation going in tank to keep film broken up as well provide extra oxygenation your fish need as well as helping drive off ammonia into the atmosphere, just a nice steady ripple in water surface is all that is needed. If you have a full glass top make sure there is at least a 1Ē open gap along back to let gases escape, this allows tank to purge itself of unwanted gases, including ammonia.
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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-05-2020, 12:07 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
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If your tap contains ammonia compounds youíd be better off to dose water with prime etc, break the bonds then aerate for a few hours to drive off ammonia from water. Then lightly dose with dechlor again right before you do water change. With your high PH the less ammonia compounds you can dump into tank the better off youíll be.

Iím also seeing a stagnant film covered water surface in your picture, the film will prevent ammonia from escaping. Get more surface agitation going in tank to keep film broken up as well provide extra oxygenation your fish need as well as helping drive off ammonia into the atmosphere, just a nice steady ripple in water surface is all that is needed. If you have a full glass top make sure there is at least a 1Ē open gap along back to let gases escape, this allows tank to purge itself of unwanted gases, including ammonia.
So just to be sure, you're talking about aerating replacement water before it's added to the tank for a few hours? I've considered adding an air stone to the tank before but was concerned I would blow out all the CO2 from the excel. As for the film on the water, it drives me nuts. I'll have nice water for a few days before that greasy stuff takes hold again. I only feed one single shrimp pellet daily. For some reason my filter only agitates half the tank laterally. It's an Aqueon Quiet Flow 30 so I don't know what its deal is. Guess I was a little naive thinking the Stability would punch out the cycle like it said.

As for the cover, yes it's a covered tank. There's usually plenty of space above the water's surface for gasses to release. I think maybe I jumped the gun, I'm embarrassed to say.

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Originally Posted by deeda View Post
It's possible that your 0.25 ppm ammonia level is because your test kit is picking up the non harmful ammonium after your dechlorinator product temporarily binds the ammonia.

Some people use the Seachem Ammonia Alert in their tank as a secondary check to help differentiate between the harmful ammonia and non harmful ammonium.
I've seen those floating around with mixed reviews. I might give it a tryouts to see what's what.

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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-05-2020, 12:50 AM
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Excel has no co2, itís a chemical that contains a carbon source plants can also utilize. No worry about expelling it from water. Mild aeration from stone or increased rippling water movement at surface actually improve co2 absorption into your water as well as increasing oxygen content. With rippling water movement surface area of water in contact with atmosphere gases increases so more gas can enter the water. Bubble from stone also ripple water surface but also create a low-high movement of water which also helps in co2 accumulation in tank.

As far as cover, itís not space above surface of water thatís problem, itís when lid is so sealed up that gas canít rise out of tank thatís problem, 1Ē gap between back edge of top glass and back rim is plenty.


A simple surface extractor will clear up water surface.


If tank circulation is lacking might consider getting one of the little powered skimmers, kill 2 birds with one stone.

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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-05-2020, 04:44 PM Thread Starter
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Hmmm I might give one of the skimmers a try. I was originally thinking of using a canister filter or skimmer because plant debris gums up my HOB's charcoal filter something fierce. Seachem has a Tidal 35 that might be the best of both worlds as a skimmer and filter that uses loose media instead of these janky mesh things. The thing I hear about canisters is that they're expensive; skimmers that they require another outlet and all sorts of hardware. Anyone used the Seachem or anything similar? The Eheim seem to be very popular but I don't know how skimmer/hob/cannister/etc plays with planted tanks. This is my first tank fully planted and man does plant life make a mess of a filter..

I did go ahead and grab one of the free ammonia indicators to see if my readings are picking up ammonium. If it is, then that's good news. If not, I've got more reading to do. I'm just glad I'm well on my way to troubleshooting.

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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-13-2020, 11:24 PM Thread Starter
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Update: I purchased the Seachem Tidal 35 and so far am very happy with it. I have it running right now at the same time as my Aqueon 20 LED. The cartridge filter is a joke on water flow compared to this new filter. I think that caused a lot of problems with scum on the water's surface due to poor circulation. I have noticed though that even with better flow, circulation is still only occurring throughout half the tank when running the Tidal solo. I've never had this happen before. When looking at the bubbles on the top of the water, they only swoop to the middle of the tank, then right back to the back. Odd.

As to my ammonia readings, I went ahead and picked up one of Seachem's alert deals. I've had it for several days and it still reads safe, so presumably my test kit was indeed picking up ammonium and not free ammonia. My fish are in good health, very active, with a great appetite. I guess "don't panic" is worth remembering!
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-14-2020, 12:49 AM
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I think I picked up mention of carbon filtering? If using carbon, you may be running into a zone many of us found not worth the effort to deal with carbon.
Carbon is great for some things as it does have tons of the very tiny holes which do great at really getting fine, fine stuff like meds, color or odor out of the tank. But those tiny holes are the downside also as they stop up really too quick. So once a tank is up and running well so that we know there is a good supply of good bacteria, most of us stop using the carbon--- unless we find a special time when we need the super fine filtering. We most often just do mechanical and bio filtering to strain the particulars we don't want to see and let the bio bacteria take care of the rest while we store the carbon back on the shelf in case we do need it.
Just makes it cleaner and less work and expense if we stop doing the messy carbon stuff. Most do not need it.
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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-14-2020, 03:08 PM Thread Starter
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most of us stop using the carbon--- unless we find a special time when we need the super fine filtering. We most often just do mechanical and bio filtering to strain the particulars we don't want to see and let the bio bacteria take care of the rest while we store the carbon back on the shelf in case we do need it.
Just makes it cleaner and less work and expense if we stop doing the messy carbon stuff. Most do not need it.
Waterflow is almost magic if we watch closely! Don't let anybody catch you watching for too long!
Yes, I've been using a carbon filter before being turned on to bio media filters, so I'm using the Seachem Tidal 35 with their supplied rocks (?) and sponge-like filter. Sometime down the line I plan on introducing Purigen as well. Right now, I have both a carbon filter and the Tidal running simultaneously while the BB set up shop in the new media. After that I plan on taking the carbon filter out completely so I can put my lid back on.

Surface agitation has been a yuge blessing, yet there's still the question of circulation. I'm starting to believe that the plants near the surface, or even the ones below are what's keeping the tank from fully circulating.

"What we learn to do, we learn by doing." - Aristotle (385-325 BCE)
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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-14-2020, 04:30 PM
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Yes, I find circulation is a constantly changing thing as plants grow or change. One of the things I feel is handy for the way I work is not to use the filter alone as a circulation generator. Since filter are pretty expensive, hard to arrange to hide and also more trouble to maintain, I like getting the filter to do that job and then add some of the really small, really cheap($7-10?) powerheads I find on E-bay. The amount of flow I get from this "530 GPH Circulation Pump Wavemaker" Seems just enough to keep things well stirred and the mount is the suction cup type with a lever which sucks down much better.
With the powerhead, I can place it here and there and watch how debris and water move until I get it close to right. Never exactly right but close?
Maybe do a check to see how it might work out for what you want as they seem to work well for me. Point I like is that they stay clean and don't require near as much time as cleaning filters.
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post #11 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-19-2020, 03:14 AM
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Funny how when you compare well chronicled Walstad type tanks and higher tech CO2 injection systems, you often see, like in FooTheFlowerhorn's videos that his dirt substrate tank is bubbling Oxygen off the plants just like a CO2 system aquarium does.

Diane does a lot of involved biology and science discussion in her book about her tanks, yet we often will see in non-dirted substrate, high tech tanks like WaterWelder's that there's a chance his deep sand substrate is processing the Ammonia into atmospheric Nitrogen through more than one anerobic biological process. This is a surmise on my part, but it does possibly explain why you don't have toxic ammonia buildup.

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post #12 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-19-2020, 04:11 PM Thread Starter
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Diane does a lot of involved biology and science discussion in her book about her tanks, yet we often will see in non-dirted substrate, high tech tanks like WaterWelder's that there's a chance his deep sand substrate is processing the Ammonia into atmospheric Nitrogen through more than one anerobic biological process. This is a surmise on my part, but it does possibly explain why you don't have toxic ammonia buildup.
I hadn't thought of that. There is a chance that the bacteria in the substrate are conspiring and doing good work. I do miss my Walstad tank for the natural component. Being a student I wanted a substrate that was more hassle-free but once I get my own place it's on.

"What we learn to do, we learn by doing." - Aristotle (385-325 BCE)
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