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I very much like your idea of the under gravel filter serving as a cave/tunnel for kuhli loaches! I think two entry/exits might be better , allows more flow and slightly more light.

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Looking forward to your next update! What is your mesh in 2 made of? Stainless steel?

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It's a piece of filter media bag, rubber banded around the pipe. I'm going to have to check it often for clogs & tares.
How about using stainless steel mesh with rounded edges? Less maintenance.

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I think the main problem is water out of your tap is 7.6. First you want to make sure your test kit didn't expire and if it is really 7.6.

If it is really 7.6. Then using ADA amazonia substrate will buffer water to a lower slightly acidic pH or alternatively adding a small porous tied up bag of peat moss will also lower the pH.

There might be a reason why your tap water is so high in pH assuming your test kit is correct, you should test kh and gh too. If these are high then it's not surprising for pH to be high. Your water might be perfect for African Cichlids!

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Yeah our water is really that high. But the area fish stores also keep their livestock in local water. I'd rather not be constantly trying to adjust the tank's pH levels, from what I understand this is more stressful on the fish then just keeping them at a higher pH. But if I can figure out how to set up the tank, from the beginning, so the pH doesn't raise so much, then I'll do that.
Also I'm trying to get a feel for just how sensitive Kuhli loaches and pea puffers are to hard water and high pH. Our water comes out with 150ppm GH. I don't have a TDS tester yet (it's on my list).
Yes I agree that maintaining a stable pH even if it is high is better than constantly trying to change the pH. Since your local water is like that, and local fish stores also have their fishes in high pH then I guess as long as you acclimatize your livestock very slowly and carefully should be okay? Cardinal shrimps would suit your water too by the way.

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