Rock/stone, heat, and water chemistry - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 07:04 AM Thread Starter
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Rock/stone, heat, and water chemistry

Greeting TPT Community! This is my first ever post, though admittedly I've read and learned so much from you already. Thank you! I was born with the aquarium "sickness" (as my father called it--he shared the affliction) and over the past 30 years I've had a dozen or more aquariums (from reefs to African cichlids) and I've always obsessed with research and geeked out on water quality. A high tech planted aquarium is new frontier for me and it's so exciting to be in the game again after a bit of a hiatus--this time with my daughter. "She" got a 12-gallon long for Christmas. Anyhow...

We're blessed (?) with super-soft well water. With only mechanical filtration (no chemicals), it's out the tap at around 6.0 pH, crisp and delicious. However, as we planned our new aquarium we decided to utilize a then-unused whole-house acid neutralization system to raise the pH and hardness a bit. (Our concern was that with with an aquasoil substrate, bioload, and CO2 injection our acid water would become even more so...). Basically, our water tap water now passes through Calcite media and the pH has risen to about 6.8, KH ~5 deg, and GH ~8 deg. This seemed like a good start to us based on our research--i.e., until we started considering rocks and stones for our hardscape...

As much as we love the looks of Seiryu stone, dragon stone, etc., we wanted to take advantage of our local geology (which is incredibly diverse and beautiful but difficult to understand--thanks, Northernmost Coastal California!) and reduce our carbon footprint by not ordering 20# of rock through the mail (with all due respect to the aquarists that do, and to their beautiful aquariums). Not having a strong geology background, I nevertheless selected rocks along our unpolluted coast and rivers that seemed solid and "inert." I tested them with vinegar and phosphoric acid, which fizzed considerably on the many rocks with carbonate veins from the coast. Very cool, but not for our aquarium... Anyhow, several beautiful rocks from along our rivers caught our eyes and seemed to pass the acid tests. Attached are the two types I ended up taking home to prep for possible aquarium use. I have no idea what they are. Anyone...?

Anyhow, I mechanically cleaned them in water with a brush, and then put them in a hot water bath (not boil) for about 30 minutes at 180F to "sterilize" and then let them cool to ambient over several hours. I then tested the water I heated them in: the lighter-colored-rock water tested at 8.0 pH and hardness generally increased by 2 deg; the darker-colored-rock water was at about 8.2 pH and a degree or two higher in hardness.

I'm now concerned that these rocks are no good for our planted aquarium as they might result in an undesirable alkaline, hard-water environment. Of course, I also don't have the experience to know how other factors (e.g., substrate, bioload, and CO2 injection, among others) might (or might not) counteract this water chemistry to support the critters my daughter (especially) wants to care for. FWIW, she'll likely want everything, including shrimp, but I'll moderate her expectations as appropriate. But still, I think an 8.0-8.2 pH could be excessive for most planted aquariums with community critters, no...?

I'm currently soaking each type of rock in room-temperature water to see how much influence heating the rocks had on water chemistry, as opposed to a 70-80F aquarium environment over the long term. Anyone have any insights into the role heat my be playing here...? I'm happy to report back on the results of my own mini-experiment.

Anyhow, I want to get this hardscape decided and our cycle going. Am I stressing our too much about these rocks and water chemistry? Part of me thinks it will be fine, and I should just chill out, include them, and learn how to manage the water we're given. But the other part of me still thinks there's things I could/should do, like dial back the whole-house acid neutralization a bit and/or buy aquarium-safe rocks (cringe...). That'll of course mean more time, which I can deal with, but at the risk of alienating/boring my daughter...?

Thanks in advance for your time (I know it wasn't insignificant to get this far) and attention!
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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 08:13 AM
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I wouldn’t put any substantive qualifications on what a rock in a 180° environment does. Not gonna happen in aquarium environment so has no meaning at all in your use.

If you did acid testing your acidic water might have a very slight effect of raising GH/TDS over time. To me if it raises PH to say 6.8 I’d consider it a perfect combo. Water changes can tame any GH/TDS buildup. I’d just take that biggest brown rock, put it in tank measure PH/KH/GH at start and after 1wk. Repeat test with black rock after a 30% water change. With your aquasoils humic acid content it might just buffer and absorb any leach from rocks to make it irrelevant.

The black rock looks volcanic in nature to me. Brown rock looks like a granite and by color probably has good iron content.
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Originally Posted by Mr. Darcy View Post
we wanted to take advantage of our local geology (which is incredibly diverse and beautiful but difficult to understand--thanks, Northernmost Coastal California!) and reduce our carbon footprint by not ordering 20# of rock through the mail (with all due respect to the aquarists that do, and to their beautiful aquariums).
This might be the most Californian statement I've seen online ;P

Anyway I second DaveKS on the 180 degree soak not meaning much. There is another issue that you might be getting contamination from dirt and sand attached to the rock depending on how well they were cleaned.

I would instead just use buckets to test both rocks at the same time. One bucket for one type of rock, one bucket for the other. Meanwhile I would also take a glass and fill that with tap water as well. The glass is your control.

Test both buckets and the glass after 48 hours. Then test the buckets again after a week. This should tell you if the rocks are having any effect.

You are however improperly using some terms. Hard water refers to GH/KH/TDS your water is acidic but after 7 on the ph its alkaline. The trouble with rocks usually is not just the ph change but the hardness change (at least as it refers to plants).

Since you mentioned your gh I assume you have a gh/kh test kit? Definitely use it on the buckets with the rocks at 48 hours and after a week. This will tell you whats happening.

I honestly hesitate to use a whole house system if its an option. It sounds like your water is doing pretty great right out of the tap. 6.0 ph is something a lot of people would give an appendage for. Lots of plants and fish prefer a ph in the 5.5-6.0 ph scale... But if you like your water with higher ph then go for it.

Planted tanks are a lot of fun and this forum is a great place for information. I think you will find a lot of diverse opinions here which is great because it lets you know you have options.

Welcome!
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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 05:48 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
This might be the most Californian statement I've seen online ;P
LOL, I see what you mean!

All very helpful. Thanks, y'all!

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I would instead just use buckets to test both rocks at the same time. One bucket for one type of rock, one bucket for the other. Meanwhile I would also take a glass and fill that with tap water as well. The glass is your control.

Test both buckets and the glass after 48 hours. Then test the buckets again after a week. This should tell you if the rocks are having any effect.
And just as you suggest, @minorhero, that's what I've been doing: Both kinds of rocks in separate buckets, and I'll test the water for pH, KH, and GH against a tap water control sample. Admittedly, I didn't want to wait a week (48 hours is more comfy given my daughter's impatience), but I do see the wisdom in your suggestion.

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I honestly hesitate to use a whole house system if its an option. It sounds like your water is doing pretty great right out of the tap. 6.0 ph is something a lot of people would give an appendage for. Lots of plants and fish prefer a ph in the 5.5-6.0 ph scale... But if you like your water with higher ph then go for it.
And yeah, the whole house acid neutralization system is not just about the aquarium, but these units are typically installed in homes with low pH in order to protect house plumbing and prevent leeching heavy metals into drinking water. Again, I'd be happy, too, if in the established aquarium I was sitting in the low 6s pH, but my impetus for raising the whole house pH was that I thought it would otherwise drop too low with CO2, plants, critters, substrate, etc. But maybe you're right and I'll end up dialing it back a bit--simple enough to do.

Thanks again for the insights, everyone!

Last edited by Mr. Darcy; 01-17-2020 at 06:34 PM. Reason: Changed "our suggestion" to "your suggestion" for clarification.
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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 06:53 PM
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I thought it would otherwise drop too low with CO2, plants, critters, substrate, etc.
Apparently ph drop due to co2 is not something that affects livestock or plants. Its a "fake" ph drop, its not actually making this more acidic, but our ph tests report it as such. Or at least that is my understanding.


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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 07:46 PM
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Apparently ph drop due to co2 is not something that affects livestock or plants. Its a "fake" ph drop, its not actually making this more acidic, but our ph tests report it as such. Or at least that is my understanding.
Where have you read/ learned about this? I am quite curious to hear more.



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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 08:03 PM
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It's possible plants and fish don't mind a pH drop as much if it accompanied by a CO2 increase, since this is the pattern in the wild. pH drop with CO2 not real? No. Just possibly not as stressful.

If your rocks pass the acid test, I doubt they're screwing up any chemistry. They look like inert quartzite in the photos, though of course it's hard to be sure. You can try some concentrated hydrochloric acid in place of vinegar (available in any decent hardware store, often as "muriatic acid") and if that doesn't fizz they will not alter chemistry of water. The one on the left looks particularly "inert" to me; the one on the right looks like it might have some calcite crust.

Boiling them to clean is not a bad idea. This won't destroy some cysts and spores, though, so if you're really concerned about that (and I actually doubt it's a problem) then you need a sporocide. Concentrated bleach works and is (relatively) innocuous to handle.
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Where have you read/ learned about this? I am quite curious to hear more.
From this forum! heh I can't point to the thread off hand but its been floated a few times now.


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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 09:44 PM
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And yeah, the whole house acid neutralization system is not just about the aquarium, but these units are typically installed in homes with low pH in order to protect house plumbing and prevent leeching heavy metals into drinking water. Again, I'd be happy, too, if in the established aquarium I was sitting in the low 6s pH, but my impetus for raising the whole house pH was that I thought it would otherwise drop too low with CO2, plants, critters, substrate, etc. But maybe you're right and I'll end up dialing it back a bit--simple enough to do.

Thanks again for the insights, everyone!
Are you able to access your water before it enters the whole house system? If so, you could test your rocks in that environment to see what happens. If you're starting with softer water, the stones may not affect it as much--provided you're doing regular water changes.

And if it does harden the water, unless you & your daughter have your hearts set on particular fish or plants that require soft water, there are still plenty of beautiful fish & plants that thrive in harder water. (As you well know if you had African cichlids) Or you can just forego the rocks, and can still create a beautiful tank with beautiful local manzanita and all the soft water-loving fish & plants you want.

Look forward to seeing what you create
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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 09:49 PM
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Sounds like that calcite system will add only calcium to water. You would probably be better off pulling water from before that system and using something like Seachem Equilibrium to bring GH up a bit. With only extra Ca in water the balance of other macro needed in healthy aquarium water is being ignored. Or maybe 1part calcified water to 3 parts water treated with touch of Equilibrium.

Equilibrium
Guaranteed Analysis
Amounts per 1 g
Soluble Potash (K2O) 23.0%
Calcium (Ca) 8.06%
Magnesium (Mg) 2.41%
Iron (Fe) 0.11%
Manganese (Mn) 0.06%
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post #11 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-18-2020, 01:31 AM Thread Starter
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Duplicate post. Sorry!

Last edited by Mr. Darcy; 01-20-2020 at 03:51 AM. Reason: Duplicate post
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post #12 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-19-2020, 05:39 AM
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We're blessed (?) with super-soft well water. With only mechanical filtration (no chemicals), it's out the tap at around 6.0 pH, crisp and delicious.
What is the GH KH of your well water? If you put a glass of well water on the shelf and check it 2 days later does the pH drop? Typically when you have soft acidic well water the The low PH might be due to high levels of CO2 in the water. Once the CO2 has outgassed the PH may increase. In some cases there may be too much CO2 in the water causing animals in the tank to suffocate. So you might want to put enough well water in a bucket for a water change and let it site for a week and than at the next water change use the water in from the bucket instead of straight well water. The degassed bucket water might be less strssfull to the fish than using straight well water.

I can't say that using your well water straight or degassed is better than using the water that has been through the calcite filtered water. Ideally you want a mix of magnesium and calcium in the water plants need both of these minerals for proper growth There is some information that suggests too much calcium could interfere with plant growth. You might want to consider using Dolomite instead of calcite. Domolite Is a mineral with both calcium and magnesium carbonate in it.

Calcium carbonate dissolves in acidic water but it does not dissolve in water with a PH higher than 7. This lack of solubility at a PH above 7 generally causes thePH to stabilize at 7. It should not go to 8 as you observed in the water from your boiled rocks is a little strange unless heating caused something else to dissolve that might not normally dissolve in unheated water. It is hard to say if those rocks are OK or not. Generally the safest rocks to uses are granite rock or lava rock that has been exposed to rain over many years.The rain tends to wash off any water soluble minerals making the rock mostly inert. Beach sand is also a good material to use because water exposure has also made it inert.

These is a lab test called TCP-OES that can measure 33 element in water It can measure 13 of the 14 plant nutrients in water. The 14 nutrient is nitrogen which this test cannot detect but is easily tested for in liquid test kits. This test cost $30 dollars and take a week to ge the results and can measure the consntration in the water down to 0.001ppm. You could use this test to see how there water chemistry changed when you boiled the rocks. This test can also be used to verify all nutrients plants need to grow are present. If plants are missing just one or more of the 14 needs nutrients plant goth could slow or stop growing and algae could take over the tank.
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post #13 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-19-2020, 07:03 AM Thread Starter
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Duplicate post. Sorry!

Last edited by Mr. Darcy; 01-20-2020 at 03:50 AM. Reason: Duplicate post
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post #14 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-19-2020, 07:16 AM Thread Starter
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It's possible plants and fish don't mind a pH drop as much if it accompanied by a CO2 increase, since this is the pattern in the wild. pH drop with CO2 not real? No. Just possibly not as stressful.

If your rocks pass the acid test, I doubt they're screwing up any chemistry. They look like inert quartzite in the photos, though of course it's hard to be sure. You can try some concentrated hydrochloric acid in place of vinegar (available in any decent hardware store, often as "muriatic acid") and if that doesn't fizz they will not alter chemistry of water. The one on the left looks particularly "inert" to me; the one on the right looks like it might have some calcite crust.

Boiling them to clean is not a bad idea. This won't destroy some cysts and spores, though, so if you're really concerned about that (and I actually doubt it's a problem) then you need a sporocide. Concentrated bleach works and is (relatively) innocuous to handle.
This is reassuring, thank you. After more testing today (see below), I'm as confused as ever and may run out to get some muriatic acid. I was using phosphoric which I believe is a stronger acid than vinegar, but not as acidic as hydrochloric.

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Originally Posted by Desert Pupfish View Post
Are you able to access your water before it enters the whole house system? If so, you could test your rocks in that environment to see what happens. If you're starting with softer water, the stones may not affect it as much--provided you're doing regular water changes.

And if it does harden the water, unless you & your daughter have your hearts set on particular fish or plants that require soft water, there are still plenty of beautiful fish & plants that thrive in harder water. (As you well know if you had African cichlids) Or you can just forego the rocks, and can still create a beautiful tank with beautiful local manzanita and all the soft water-loving fish & plants you want.

Look forward to seeing what you create
Thank you for this reasonable advice. I can bypass the acid neutralization system, and I may. Again, my big concern with adding the Calcite was to raise the pH and hardness of my 6.0 pH well water, which I was concerned would become dangerously acidic in an aquarium with increased CO2, bioload, etc (not to mention my concern for my home's metal pluimbing!). But the advice in these forums suggests to me that it's not that simple and there are many other variables to consider. And yes, I have some our local manzanita and madrone curing right now. Beautiful, indeed!

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveKS View Post
Sounds like that calcite system will add only calcium to water. You would probably be better off pulling water from before that system and using something like Seachem Equilibrium to bring GH up a bit. With only extra Ca in water the balance of other macro needed in healthy aquarium water is being ignored. Or maybe 1part calcified water to 3 parts water treated with touch of Equilibrium.

Equilibrium
Guaranteed Analysis
Amounts per 1 g
Soluble Potash (K2O) 23.0%
Calcium (Ca) 8.06%
Magnesium (Mg) 2.41%
Iron (Fe) 0.11%
Manganese (Mn) 0.06%
Very interesting. I had not even considered that imbalance coming out of my tap at all. Suddenly it seems an obvious oversight. Thank you! I will likely dial back the Calcite contribution a bit or entirely and/or consider a product like Equilibrium.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Surf View Post
What is the GH KH of your well water? If you put a glass of well water on the shelf and check it 2 days later does the pH drop? Typically when you have soft acidic well water the The low PH might be due to high levels of CO2 in the water. Once the CO2 has outgassed the PH may increase. In some cases there may be too much CO2 in the water causing animals in the tank to suffocate. So you might want to put enough well water in a bucket for a water change and let it site for a week and than at the next water change use the water in from the bucket instead of straight well water. The degassed bucket water might be less strssfull to the fish than using straight well water.

I can't say that using your well water straight or degassed is better than using the water that has been through the calcite filtered water. Ideally you want a mix of magnesium and calcium in the water plants need both of these minerals for proper growth There is some information that suggests too much calcium could interfere with plant growth. You might want to consider using Dolomite instead of calcite. Domolite Is a mineral with both calcium and magnesium carbonate in it.

Calcium carbonate dissolves in acidic water but it does not dissolve in water with a PH higher than 7. This lack of solubility at a PH above 7 generally causes thePH to stabilize at 7. It should not go to 8 as you observed in the water from your boiled rocks is a little strange unless heating caused something else to dissolve that might not normally dissolve in unheated water. It is hard to say if those rocks are OK or not. Generally the safest rocks to uses are granite rock or lava rock that has been exposed to rain over many years.The rain tends to wash off any water soluble minerals making the rock mostly inert. Beach sand is also a good material to use because water exposure has also made it inert.

These is a lab test called TCP-OES that can measure 33 element in water It can measure 13 of the 14 plant nutrients in water. The 14 nutrient is nitrogen which this test cannot detect but is easily tested for in liquid test kits. This test cost $30 dollars and take a week to ge the results and can measure the consntration in the water down to 0.001ppm. You could use this test to see how there water chemistry changed when you boiled the rocks. This test can also be used to verify all nutrients plants need to grow are present. If plants are missing just one or more of the 14 needs nutrients plant goth could slow or stop growing and algae could take over the tank.
Great information. Thank you! As suggested above, I've had the two types of rock in separate room temperature water for 48 hours and I just tested them both against a tap water sample:

TAP WATER (after Calcite "filter")
pH: 6.6
GH:6
KH: 5

ROCK 1 BUCKET
pH: 7.6
GH: 9
KH: 6

ROCK 2 BUCKET
pH: 7.6
GH: 8
KH: 6

So, @Surf, looking at these numbers I was beginning to suspect that yeah, maybe the rocks are just not appropriate for the aquarium. As you suggest, CaCO3 should not contribute to a pH higher than 7, and it didn't until I added either rock. While the heating of the rocks raised it even higher, the room temperature soak, too, raised the parameters significantly. So it must be the rocks, right? For whatever reason, though, I refuse to believe it, LOL! I'm still not satisfied, at least not yet. So, I got to thinking, maybe there are undissolved solids coming out of the tap or something, that are invisible to me, but which "dissolve" if left to sit for a certain period of time, thus changing the water chemistry. And now, you suggest (which kinda blows my mind!) that high concentrations of CO2 in well water are not only potentially toxic to fish, but that degassed CO2 could/should result in a pH rise. So, is it possible that the rise in pH (and/or GH or KH) I'm seeing in my rock-filled buckets after 48 hours could be due to these factors? Degassing and/or dissolving? I was starting to think along these lines when I decided to leave a sample of tap water to sit for seven hours and tested it against a fresh tap water sample: They were pretty much identical. But maybe I just didn't let it sit long enough...? Well, I'm going to find out. I'll let a bucket of straight tap water sit for a week and test before and after. Thanks so much for this idea!

Again, thank you all for your generous advice and for sharing your experience. I'm learning so much and am very grateful!
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post #15 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-21-2020, 03:20 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks to everyone's advice so far on this thread. Just wanted to report a quick update:

Primarily based on a combination of recommendations from @minorhero and @Surf (and really, from all the commenters), I let a sample of "treated" tap water (with Calcite from the house acid neutralization system) sit for 48 hours and tested. The results were nearly identical (at least for pH) to those of the water containing my rock samples. In short, when I tested my tap water straight from the tap, I got pH=6.4. GH=5, and KH=5. When I let that tap water sit in a bucket for 48 hours, I got pH=7.6, GH=9, and KH=8. Interestingly enough both KH and GH rose more in the sample without rocks...? Whatever the case, this suggests to me that a) the rocks are not going to significantly change my water quality (I did also try HCl with no reaction); and b) my tap water quality will change after it rests for a while—pH, GH, and KH will increase.

Whether this is due to degassing CO2 and/or solids further dissolving over time, it's telling, regardless. I read up a lot on high CO2 concentrations in well water and the impacts on fish, and clearly it's a thing I need to be aware of. I'll be setting up some kind of aerated reservoir for water changes going forward. Moreover, I've completely bypassed the acid neutralization unit from my home tap water. Seems like that's what everyone was trying to suggest, anyway, but I guess I had to prove it to my stubborn self.

Lastly, if resting and degassing made a +1.2 pH impact on my tap water (and increased GH and KH), I'll be very curious what it does to my soft, untreated 6.0 pH well water. Maybe I'll share the results later!
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