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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-05-2015, 03:46 PM Thread Starter
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Substrate Issues?

In my research, I've discovered that..."brown algae is is generally caused by too little light, an excess of silicates, an abundance of nutrients, and/or too little oxygen. Silicates can build up through tap water that is high in silicic acid, and silicates that leech from some types of substrates."

I've experimented with so many different types of light, where PAR readings are perfectly fine, that I've eliminated lighting as a cause of the issue.

I've eliminated an abundance of nutrients through over-feeding as being the cause by feeding the minimum.

With respect to "nutrients" in the twenty gallon tank, there were some root tabs that were placed in the substrate when I first planted. I used Dynamo Fertilizer granules in my root tabs.

Another possible contributing factor is that I put a couple of 4" diameter rocks from a construction site into the tank. I am suspicious that maybe the silicates are leaching out of the rocks, which appear to be mostly limestone.

When I set the twenty gallon tank up, I used construction sand to top off a bottom layer of Flourite. The sand I used is very well sifted using water overflow from a bucket, to the point that the remaining grains of sand are heavy, and settle directly to the bottom when agitated within the tank, no cloudiness whatsoever. Too much in the way of Silicates?

Another possible contributing factor is the type of tap water we have in my area, which is considered hard compared to many other parts of the country. Our hard water has a tendency to cause limestone deposits in our bath fixtures, hot water heaters, pipes, etc...so, many people are encouraged to employ a soft water system to soften the water. I do have a water softener on my entire plumbing system.

Too little Oxygen, I don't think so...I've had tanks with air pumps that provide adequate oxygen levels. Fish are never observed floating to the top for air.

I have this brown algae issue develop in several different tanks without fail, both a ten gallon and a twenty gallon tank. One time, I experimented with a ten gallon tank with absolutely no substrate, just to see what would happen. The brown algae always seems to develop after a couple of weeks, even on the tanks without a substrate.

I also have a 28 gallon tank where I have no plants, no decorations, only black synthetic gravel from Petco, and nothing more in the tank, other than tap water (treated with Prime) and some fish. The most I get in that tank is a very minor amount of green algae, mostly occurring when I don't regulate the lighting like I should. But, otherwise, in that tank, no brown algae, other than sometimes forming right where the synthetic substrate meets the side of the glass, just a little. I always follow the same precautions, like not over-feeding, etc...

So, I plan to start over...I have since completely torn down my twenty gallon tank, and plan to replant it, and populate it with just a few fish. With the above mentioned factors in mind, which is the best substrate to use if I wanted to have a few rooting plants in the tank that require low medium levels of light?
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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-05-2015, 04:15 PM
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I have the same problem with brown algae attacking my substrate... It has happened to my tank after tearing it down as well. I had eco complete over a MGOCPM cap at first that lost the battle very badly and now I still get the stuff with black diamond blasting sand with a bunch of osmocote tabs buried in it. Really hurts the growth of my hair grass and it even gets on some of the lower leaves of my healthier stems. It suffocates a good amount of my hairgrass - really only the newer growth is able to avoid it.

A part of me things that I have too many nutrients buried in the substrate - first with the dirt and now with the osmocote pellets. Who knows though - another part of me things there are other factors at play.

I only get this in my high tech tank. My low tech tank has no traces of it.

Honestly I'm not sure switching substrate will save you... It certainly didn't save me.

do you have pictures of what yours looks like? I will take some tonight to see if it is similar to what I deal with.


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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 04:36 AM Thread Starter
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Unfortunately, I got so disgusted with it that I completely emptied the tank. But, toward the last few days, it was spreading out like a carpet of brown algae on the surface of the sand substrate, totally obscuring the sand underneath, it also formed on the 4" diameter rocks, and adhered to the plant surfaces. It was going wild!

But, because it was growing on the top surfaces, on the sand, the top edges of the Rocks, etc...I am beginning to wonder if lighting might have been more of a contributing issue than I thought. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of it. My motivation was to get rid of it so I could start over.

I moved the fish over from the 20 gallon Brown Algae tank to an empty 10 gallon tank, used synthetic black gravel from Petco, a couple of fake silk plants, etc...And, that was two weeks ago, and so far NO brown algae yet.

Another thing I did was to switch the lighting to a spare Marineland "Double Bright" LED light fixture I had, thinking that maybe insufficient lighting was a contributing issue. I had been using three 5 watt CFLs in a home-made rain gutter housing on the 20 gallon Brown Algae tank. Before that, during a time that I seemed to have less of a problem with Brown Algae (slower growing, but still there), I had been using an LED strip light that I built. The PAR reading with both the CFL light, and the LED strip light, was around 8-15 micromoles at the substrate.

Now, using the Marineland fixture, PAR measures about 20 micromoles on the 10 gallon tank at the substrate. So, the light levels would still be considered a relatively low level, but theoretically sufficient for appearance sake. But, not generally considered sufficient to raise plants that need anything more than very low levels of light.

I think that the low intensity lighting, the high silicate substrate, too many plant root tabs, the silicate content of the rocks, the silicate content of my hard water, etc...all contribute together to exacerbate their effect upon the problem. So, it may take more of a holistic approach to resolve the issue. But, I do theorize that one element of the whole issue is probably the sand substrate, as well as leaching of silicates from the rocks and water.

So, I'm hoping to use the best choice of substrate when I rebuild the tank, to possibly mitigate any contribution that substrate might make to high silicates that might be causing the brown algae issue. If I stick with the Flourite, I might try to sift out the sand, and separate it from the Flourite by using a screen and a bucket. It could be that salvaging my Flourite as a substrate, and totally eliminating the sand and rocks, using fewer or even no root tabs, supplementing plant nutrition with water based additives like Seachem's Flourish or something, might be the right approach. I also plan to build a better LED light fixture with controller, one that has the right number of LEDs with the proper color temperature capable of delivering optimum PAR.

With respect to high silicates, I can't change the hard water-high silicate water condition beyond what I'm doing with respect to running the soft water system. So, I am focusing on the things I can change.

If I'm planning to plant rooting plants, I'll need a substrate that permits good rooting action. It would seem to me that in order to plant rooting plants, the substrate would need to be a smaller gravel size than the Flourite, which I could reuse if I salvage it by separating it from the sand. But, I don't know if Flourite is adequate for planting rooting plants with respect to the size of the gravel, or if there's a better choice, taking the potential for high silicates contributing to the Brown Algae into consideration as well.

In my case, considering the hard water and high silicate content, I kind of think that a totally synthetic substrate might be answer to the higher silicate component to my water quality, but the synthetic gravel is too large for rooting action. So, if anybody knows of a synthetic substrate that will sustain plants, one that's about half the diameter of the Flourite, I think it would fit the bill nicely.

I think that having too many root tabs is a really likely cause for high nitrites and high silicates, which feeds brown and green algae both. So, if you can remove them easily without completely rebuilding your tank, I would try that, and feed plant nutrients with Flourish or something similar. In my case, I had to completely remove the substrate because of the sand (high in silicates), which caps the Flourite. My tabs were buried in the substrate, and couldn't be easily removed without completely removing the entire substrate.

If we can get a handle on the nitrites and silicates introduced via the substrate and the root tabs, I think we'll be on the right path to solving this issue. Any changes made to the substrate just helps mitigate the further detrimental effects of the silicates induced by hard water quality, and/or the high nitrites resulting from having an excessive number of root tabs. Lighting is the third rail.

Quote:
Originally Posted by klibs View Post
I have the same problem with brown algae attacking my substrate... It has happened to my tank after tearing it down as well. I had eco complete over a MGOCPM cap at first that lost the battle very badly and now I still get the stuff with black diamond blasting sand with a bunch of osmocote tabs buried in it. Really hurts the growth of my hair grass and it even gets on some of the lower leaves of my healthier stems. It suffocates a good amount of my hairgrass - really only the newer growth is able to avoid it.

A part of me things that I have too many nutrients buried in the substrate - first with the dirt and now with the osmocote pellets. Who knows though - another part of me things there are other factors at play.

I only get this in my high tech tank. My low tech tank has no traces of it.

Honestly I'm not sure switching substrate will save you... It certainly didn't save me.

do you have pictures of what yours looks like? I will take some tonight to see if it is similar to what I deal with.

Last edited by Quizcat; 08-06-2015 at 06:26 AM. Reason: comments...
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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 08:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quizcat View Post
In my research, I've discovered that..."brown algae is is generally caused by too little light, an excess of silicates, an abundance of nutrients, and/or too little oxygen. Silicates can build up through tap water that is high in silicic acid, and silicates that leech from some types of substrates."

I've experimented with so many different types of light, where PAR readings are perfectly fine, that I've eliminated lighting as a cause of the issue.

I've eliminated an abundance of nutrients through over-feeding as being the cause by feeding the minimum.

With respect to "nutrients" in the twenty gallon tank, there were some root tabs that were placed in the substrate when I first planted. I used Dynamo Fertilizer granules in my root tabs.

Another possible contributing factor is that I put a couple of 4" diameter rocks from a construction site into the tank. I am suspicious that maybe the silicates are leaching out of the rocks, which appear to be mostly limestone.

When I set the twenty gallon tank up, I used construction sand to top off a bottom layer of Flourite. The sand I used is very well sifted using water overflow from a bucket, to the point that the remaining grains of sand are heavy, and settle directly to the bottom when agitated within the tank, no cloudiness whatsoever. Too much in the way of Silicates?

Another possible contributing factor is the type of tap water we have in my area, which is considered hard compared to many other parts of the country. Our hard water has a tendency to cause limestone deposits in our bath fixtures, hot water heaters, pipes, etc...so, many people are encouraged to employ a soft water system to soften the water. I do have a water softener on my entire plumbing system.

Too little Oxygen, I don't think so...I've had tanks with air pumps that provide adequate oxygen levels. Fish are never observed floating to the top for air.

I have this brown algae issue develop in several different tanks without fail, both a ten gallon and a twenty gallon tank. One time, I experimented with a ten gallon tank with absolutely no substrate, just to see what would happen. The brown algae always seems to develop after a couple of weeks, even on the tanks without a substrate.

I also have a 28 gallon tank where I have no plants, no decorations, only black synthetic gravel from Petco, and nothing more in the tank, other than tap water (treated with Prime) and some fish. The most I get in that tank is a very minor amount of green algae, mostly occurring when I don't regulate the lighting like I should. But, otherwise, in that tank, no brown algae, other than sometimes forming right where the synthetic substrate meets the side of the glass, just a little. I always follow the same precautions, like not over-feeding, etc...

So, I plan to start over...I have since completely torn down my twenty gallon tank, and plan to replant it, and populate it with just a few fish. With the above mentioned factors in mind, which is the best substrate to use if I wanted to have a few rooting plants in the tank that require low medium levels of light?
Too many other variables for consideration before I would seek to blame substrate.
We do not know how much light for how long was being used for what particular type plant's,From ingredient analysis, we know your "Dynamo Fertilizer" contain's no Nitrogen(rich in phosphates and a bit much copper), and depending on plant mass the available nitrogen (key macronutrent) may have been lacking with Just fish food,fish waste.
Some water softening system's remove mineral's like magnesium/calcium that plant's need ,and which helps buffer the pH and replaces these mineral's with sodium salt's which could have negative effect on plant's over time.
We do not know how often filter's are cleaned,water is changed,what other fertz are being used,what filtration.
Brown algae or diatom's are common with newly established tank's and may hang around for a few week's to a couple month's.
I'm not sold on Silicates alone being root cause for Brown algae when so many use sand without issues.
To many people with hard water also without issues.
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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 11:50 AM
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Me think's some substrates depending on content ,leach ammonia from bacterial activity breaking down organic matter, and this can cause all sort's of algae if lighting is applied in excess of available CO2.
Is why many start their tanks with subdued lighting, and perform largish water changes maybe twice a week or more for first few week's.
After this time has elapsed , plant's are hopefully sprouting new growth,there is often a fairly mature colony of bacteria in substrate(aerobic and anaerobic), and organic's are more quickly being consumed and turned more easily into plant food which maybe could make it more difficult for Diatom's and other species of algae to thrive also.?
Assuming plant's are not searching for missing nutrient's,and lighting is not too much for what CO2 can be delivered,algae cannot easily thrive.
Also assumes good tank husbandry ,water changes,trimming, and removing dead plant matter which also helps remove possible algae spore's?keeping filter's clean.
Other's maybe uproot new plant's frequently to move them,dink about with lighting period's,intensity, expieriment with chemical algae treatment's,blackout's,dip's, while also bombarding them with maybe too much light,and plant's never realize any form of stable environment .
Just sharing some thought's in addition to possible concern's bout substrate.
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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 12:16 PM Thread Starter
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I appreciate your thoughts, and I can't say as I disagree with any of your conclusions. That's what makes all this so frustrating for those of us that have the issue because there are so many factors. I concur with your analysis of the oxygen/nitrogen issues you bring up, and had not considered those factors.

I agree with you upon further reflection that substrate probably isn't the primary cause for the Brown Algae. But, I do think that all of the elements you suggest coming together in kind of a "perfect storm" results in the condition, and that elements of the substrate could have an unknown contributory effect, depending on the substrate (ie:too many or the wrong type of root tabs, etc...).

I agree that were some of the other factors that might be more responsible for causing the condition brought into line, that substrate, and any contribution that is being made through silicates, might be virtually so inconsequential with respect to silicates having an effect upon exacerbating the condition, that the problem would be otherwise non-existent.

I'm probably going to try to separate the Flourite from the sand, and just use Flourite as my substrate. At least I will have removed the root tabs as being a potential cause, which could partially be high nitrites, and I can always add the sand to cap off the Flourite at a later date if I feel I've gotten a handle on the issue. My nitrates are always around "10" after doing a water change, which always surprised me. I've suspected that the root tabs might be contributing to elevated nitrates for quite some time. Consequently, I routinely changed the water about once every two weeks, when nitrate testing showed nitrates getting to be around "20."

I have already theorized that lighting might be another major issue with respect to the problem, and I am engaged in a new light build that will permit me to more finely regulate the lighting in the tank with respect to time and intensity. The lighting I had on the tank was on a mechanical timer, and I experimented with it quite a bit. But, my experimentation with the amount of time the light was on, between 6-12 hours, proved to be inconclusive with respect to it contributing to this condition. But, I think light intensity and coverage is more likely a a contributing factor to causing the condition.

So, to any and all that would like to comment, do you think the Flourite is an acceptable substrate for rooted plants, without the sand, just push them down into the Flourite, or do I need to consider a different substrate composition and strata when I rebuild the tank?

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Originally Posted by roadmaster View Post
Me think's some substrates depending on content ,leach ammonia from bacterial activity breaking down organic matter, and this can cause all sort's of algae if lighting is applied in excess of available CO2.
Is why many start their tanks with subdued lighting, and perform largish water changes maybe twice a week or more for first few week's.
After this time has elapsed , plant's are hopefully sprouting new growth,there is often a fairly mature colony of bacteria in substrate(aerobic and anaerobic), and organic's are more quickly being consumed and turned more easily into plant food which maybe could make it more difficult for Diatom's and other species of algae to thrive also.?
Assuming plant's are not searching for missing nutrient's,and lighting is not too much for what CO2 can be delivered,algae cannot easily thrive.
Also assumes good tank husbandry ,water changes,trimming, and removing dead plant matter which also helps remove possible algae spore's?keeping filter's clean.
Other's maybe uproot new plant's frequently to move them,dink about with lighting period's,intensity, expieriment with chemical algae treatment's,blackout's,dip's, while also bombarding them with maybe too much light,and plant's never realize any form of stable environment .
Just sharing some thought's in addition to possible concern's bout substrate.

Last edited by Quizcat; 08-06-2015 at 12:41 PM. Reason: comments...
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 12:32 PM
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I have found the Fluorite which has very good capacity to adsorb nutrient's just get's better with age.Would always keep this around in bucket or tub even if I wasn't gonna use it right away.
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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 04:16 PM
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Wow, that sounds like a lot of silicates you've got leaching from the rocks, sand, water, etc. That's so frustrating!

Have you tried any products that claim to absorb silicates like Phos-Guard or the like? I had terrible issues with diatoms, but it got better over time. Mine took about 3-6 months to get under control, but things have settled down and I get it on new setups and my bare-bottomed tank...but the growth is really slow. I added plants after the diatoms started to subside so they wouldn't choke out the leaves. Some of my decorations are permanently stained though.
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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 05:37 PM Thread Starter
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No, I haven't tried the Phos-Guard. But, I will check into it. Thanks for the tip!

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Wow, that sounds like a lot of silicates you've got leaching from the rocks, sand, water, etc. That's so frustrating!

Have you tried any products that claim to absorb silicates like Phos-Guard or the like? I had terrible issues with diatoms, but it got better over time. Mine took about 3-6 months to get under control, but things have settled down and I get it on new setups and my bare-bottomed tank...but the growth is really slow. I added plants after the diatoms started to subside so they wouldn't choke out the leaves. Some of my decorations are permanently stained though.
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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-07-2015, 05:37 AM
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I agree with you upon further reflection that substrate probably isn't the primary cause for the Brown Algae. But, I do think that all of the elements you suggest coming together in kind of a "perfect storm" results in the condition, and that elements of the substrate could have an unknown contributory effect, depending on the substrate (ie:too many or the wrong type of root tabs, etc...).
You're probably right about multiple variables causing your diatom problem. Sometimes you just have to change things up until you find a balance. I set up a tank a few months ago that had a similar issue. The diatom growth got to the point where I thought it'd definitely choke out the plants. At that point I started scraping the glass and wiping off every plant leaf, followed by a 80-90% water change, every day. After about a week of this I went back to roughly every other day. The week after that the plants had grown in substantially and I stopped doing this all together. The problem hasn't come back.

The funny thing is that I've got another tank set up nearly identical to the one mentioned above, and it never had any algae problems at all. And of my five planted tanks, the one with the least algae (there really isn't any at all that's visible) seems to have the highest amount of nitrates/phosphates.

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Last edited by jacobsears; 08-07-2015 at 01:04 PM. Reason: editing
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post #11 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-07-2015, 01:58 PM Thread Starter
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We have a similar experience in that, originally, for about a year, this tank has some minor brown algae, but it wasn't prolific. The problem seemed to increase pretty substantially, to the point that it became obvious that if I permitted it to continue it would have taken over the entire tank.

But, you know, it occurs to me that this situation began about the time that we entered the spring of the year. I'm on public water here, and in my area of the country, from the spring months, literally until the end of July, we had rain everyday, usually very prolific amounts and almost NO SUN. In the garden, due to the flooding rains and no sun, I literally had to plant corn four times because there was so much rain and flooding that the seed rotted in the ground, or was completely washed away. It was very uncharacteristic for us...extreme amounts of rain, so much that I considered rounding up the animals and building an ARK (LOL!). I can recall hearing several communities around me having to initiate boil orders for public water supplies that were on community wells where bacteria was discovered. That situation was also uncharacteristic for our area.

I just wonder if by having so much rain, considerably more than I can remember ever receiving in the last 60 years, that it may have introduced elements into the water table that effected my tank through water changes. During this period, of course, I did water changes every couple of weeks. And, during that same period, April through July, the brown algae conditions increased with each water change. I did use Seachem Prime whenever doing water changes, so theoretically the well water used to do water changes should have been "conditioned" accordingly.

Now, it could just as well have been other issues that caused the brown algae, and it probably was something else. My personal opinion is that possibly inadequate lighting had the most influence. But, when you consider we live in an area that has a lot of limestone, very hard water, tap water supplied through community wells, I just wonder if the quantity of rain we received over that period of time contributed more minerals, silicates, phosphates, pesticices, and whatever else, etc...to the water table than is normal.

I don't theorize anything, not really being an expert on wells, or the science involved. But, it is an interesting coincidence to consider with respect of whether the tap water used in water changes during that time might not have had an effect on the brown algae developing in a tank that was formerly under control.

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You're probably right about multiple variables causing your diatom problem. Sometimes you just have to change things up until you find a balance. I set up a tank a few months ago that had a similar issue. The diatom growth got to the point where I thought it'd definitely choke out the plants. At that point I started scraping the glass and wiping off every plant leaf, followed by a 80-90% water change, every day. After about a week of this I went back to roughly every other day. The week after that the plants had grown in substantially and I stopped doing this all together. The problem hasn't come back.

The funny thing is that I've got another tank set up nearly identical to the one mentioned above, and it never had any algae problems at all. And of my five planted tanks, the one with the least algae (there really isn't any at all that's visible) seems to have the highest amount of nitrates/phosphates.

Last edited by Quizcat; 08-07-2015 at 02:10 PM. Reason: comments...
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post #12 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-07-2015, 02:12 PM
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But, you know, it occurs to me that this situation began about the time that we entered the spring of the year. Now, I'm on public water here, and in my area of the country, from the spring months, literally, until the end of July, we had rain everyday, usually some prolific amounts, almost NO SUN. In the garden, due to the flooding rains, and no sun, I literally had to plant corn four times. It was very uncharacteristic for us...extreme amounts of rain. I can recall hearing several communities having to initiate boil orders for public water supplies that were on community wells where bacteria was discovered. That situation was also uncharacteristic for our area.
I'm in the Indianapolis area, and we had a ton of rain earlier this year as well. Our town doesn't get it's water from the major reservoirs around us though, instead its pumped from an aquifer. I'd imagine that keeps it more consistent. They only release water reports annually though, so there isn't really an easy way (besides testing it yourself) to see how the makeup of the water is changing.

I've heard the argument made in reefkeeping, that even if you have good tap water, you should still use RO because you never know when it might suddenly change and start causing a problem.

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post #13 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-07-2015, 02:33 PM Thread Starter
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Yeah, I agree that's probably the best method, RO. But, that's a technology that gets more expensive than I've ever been willing to invest in. So, I guess I'm stuck with what comes out of the tap.

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I've heard the argument made in reefkeeping, that even if you have good tap water, you should still use RO because you never know when it might suddenly change and start causing a problem.
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post #14 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-07-2015, 02:46 PM
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Yeah, I agree that's probably the best method, RO. But, that's a technology that gets more expensive than I've ever been willing to invest in. So, I guess I'm stuck with what comes out of the tap.
Haha same here.

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post #15 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-07-2015, 05:14 PM
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Diatoms will go away on their own, you just have to wait them out for the bust phase that follows the bloom. I had 1 tank that had diatoms for 3 months before they finally stopped causing me issues.


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