Well water, water softener & fish deaths - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 10-30-2011, 06:46 AM Thread Starter
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Well water, water softener & fish deaths

We've had a planted tank for three years.

40 gallon breeder tank
Lights: 2x 39 T5HO 7hr/day
CO2: pressurized CO2, gla atomic inline diffuser, on 2 hr before the lights & off 1 hr before the lights go off, drop checker
Filter: Eheim 2217 and 2 powerheards
Fertilizer: EI dosing 50% water changes per week, flourish excel 10ml/day
Heater: hydor inline heater 78 degrees
Substrate: ecocomplete

We are using well water that has been run through a water softener that uses salt and some kind of iron removing chemical. We cannot use our untreated well water as it is so full of iron and other metals that is dark orange out of the tap. Even after going through the water softener, the water still tastes a bit metallic and and occasionally like sulfur (we drink from a britta filter). I've read that water softeners add salt to the water which is bad for the plants. I've also read that very soft water is bad for fish because it lacks buffers and therefore is subject to pH swings.

We have successfully grown many varieties of stem plants, java ferns, hair grass, anubias, lotus, hygrophila, and crypts.

However, we have been less successful with our fish. We have gone through a lot of fish over the last few years, none died immediately, or in large bunches, but there is constant attrition. We've lost: neon tetras, long fin white cloud minnows, fancy guppies, ottos, black neon tetras, glass catfish, panda corys, shrimp, and snails. Our most successful tank survivors are black neons, corys, ottos and a large bristlenose Pleco.

We do regular water changes and don't over-feed. We've never had any obvious disease outbreaks. We monitor our CO2 with a drop checker--aiming for lime green. The guy at our LFS thinks inconsistencies in our well water are to blame. This makes sense, given that the taste is not consistent. He says people around here get nitrate or nitrite spikes, which are bad.

If the well water is the problem, the only thing I can think of to truly address this is to get an RO system. I'm not opposed to this since we would be able to use it for drinking also.

But perhaps this is over-kill & we just need to adjust the gh and kh? We haven't tested these things in a couple years but last time we checked the Kh was 1 and the ppm kh/gh was 18. (we have ordered new test kits and will post the current gh and kh once they get here).

We are also struggling to truly "dial-in" our CO2. It seems like the fish are touchy and act sick whenever we adjust it. I've added an airstone at night to see if that helps. Perhaps having more buffer would make a difference. We are constantly struggling with BBA and would really like to get the CO2 up a bit without stressing the fish. I just started turning the CO2 on 2 hrs before the lights in an attempt to achieve lime green on the drop checker for as much of the lighted hours as possible.

So, bottom line:
Do we start from scratch with RO water, or do we try to work with the well/water softener water?

Will changing our water parameters help with keeping fish and shrimp alive and allow us to maximize our CO2 without stressing our fish?

What do you cleaver people suggest?

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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 10-30-2011, 06:53 AM
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Am RO unit will give you stable water parameters. To the point you shouldnt be testing all the time. What a giant PITA. I understand where youre coming from as our tap is so variable. RO water is pure and youll figure out what you need to reconstitute it to you own fish/plants needs and it should be constant. Just my opinion, expensive but worth it if you figure your losses with tap.

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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-01-2011, 02:23 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks Chad, your points are what we were thinking. Anyone else have any opinions?
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-01-2011, 03:20 AM
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I have well water too and we have a kinetico water softener. I use the water straight from the tap and even use water from outside when doing major water changes and never had a problem. I dont even use a dechlorine chemical. I know the pH of our water is 8.2 out of the tap. If we don't change the filter from the water softener ever 2 months the water stars to smell like sulfur real bad. I don't know what the kH or dH is. We only have an RO unit for our drinking water. I have a DIY CO2 system and suffer from a slight BBA problem too. Here is a crappy picture of my tank right now. Also I used to have blackskirt, serpae, and bleeding heart tetras with no problems. I currently have 6 angelfish, 3 otos, 2 amanos, 1 lonely cherry shrimp, and another lonely bleeding heart tetra that I missed when I scooped up his tetra pals to trade in for my angels.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-01-2011, 11:19 AM
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I'm in the next town over from Hcancino who posted a response above, and have well water with probably very same paramaters. We also run a water softener and I haven't had any trouble. I no longer keep a high tech planted tank but do not think I had plant issues arising from the use of well/softened water. I think any issues I had were from my lack of attention of inconsistent dosing, etc. Fish haven't been a problem either, though I never attempted to keep any super-sensitive fish. Just Cardinal Tetras, Panda Cories, etc.

So you're considering the switch to RO because of the attrition in fish and possibly caused by inconsistent water? I think RO will give you the advantage of pure water, but I think, too, that it may become susceptible to swings in parameters due to being so pure. Otherwise, people mix their RO in part with tap water to adjust the gh/kh for more stable/consistent water. But you still have to worry about aging it, measuring it, testing it, etc., so it can become more aggravating than working from the tap.

Are all your water lines running through the softener? Can you maybe route your cold water line away from the softener but still run it through a sediment filter so you can avoid the salts and the rust/iron content and see if that's more stable? Or, at least if you go for the RO, you might want to consider still using a source that hasn't gone through the softener... there are a few factors at play but generally you can assume to waste a bit of water in producing your RO and would be a shame to have so much going through your softener, and causing it to regenerate wastefully, etc.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-01-2011, 01:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Geminiluna View Post
So you're considering the switch to RO because of the attrition in fish and possibly caused by inconsistent water? I think RO will give you the advantage of pure water, but I think, too, that it may become susceptible to swings in parameters due to being so pure. Otherwise, people mix their RO in part with tap water to adjust the gh/kh for more stable/consistent water. But you still have to worry about aging it, measuring it, testing it, etc., so it can become more aggravating than working from the tap.

If you remineralize the RO water using the same dose each time, there is no param swings. Many people use RO water with shrimp and have no problem. You top off your tank during the week or weeks during waterchanges with pure RO water, so your params stay the same since evaporation increases gH/kH, etc, so you top off with pure RO to keep the params the same, then mix mineralized RO for waterchanges to those same params. If anything, using RO lets you keep your params exactly the same.

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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-05-2011, 10:44 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone.

Hcancino - thanks for sharing your experiences. Our water is a lower ph than yours, but the sulfur sounds similar. We don't use any dechlorinator either. You haven't found any effects on your fish with your changing water parameters (for instance if the filter is getting old and causing the sulfur smell?)

Geminiluna - afaik all our water lines are run through the softener, there is a shutoff valve that I suppose I could use, but then the water would have so much iron in it that it would be almost red. Your point about wastage and running the water softener too hard is a good one. The inconvenience of using the RO for water changes is what's stopping me now. I don't mind re-mineralizing, but having a 45 gallon trash can of water sitting around isn't very appealing at all...

Getochkn - yeah, remineralizing doesn't seem too difficult, but the storage seems like a big pain...it's pretty convenient to just hook the python to the faucet and go, have you seen any elegant solutions to this problem?

Thanks again everyone!

Carl
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-05-2011, 11:51 PM
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Well to be honest I use the faucet outside for water changes. I don't really know if it goes through our water softener system. I guess I'll find this winter when the faucet outside freezes
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