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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I appreciate the earlier thoughts regarding some general tank issues concerning suddenly unhealthy plants and beard algae. In my quest to address that, I think I may have caused some basic chemistry problems with my water.

Parameters:
Aquarium Water Source Water (city, not well)
pH 5.9 pH 7.6
KH 15 (or less) KH 50
GH 95 (I had been adding a little Equilibrium every other water change) GH 60
Ammonia 1.0
Nitrates 0 (or near )
Nitrite 0

Two weeks ago, when I did my every-6-week cleaning of my Fluval cannister filter, I removed a tray of old media and replaced with peat pellets. This was, in part, to soften the water in response to a beard algae problem. Also, I have tetras and angels. I do not want my aquarium water to have a 7.6 PH, but I worry that the peat, combined with the already low KH, has destabilized it. The question is, will adding pH alkaline buffer be futile if I keep the peat pellets in the filter? If so, how else can I safely lower the pH below the source water, without causing the crash I have now?

Second, the lack of nitrates and the steady levels of ammonia concern me that the biological filter is no longer cycling. Initially, I figured my replacing the media tray and some of the other cleaning may have removed too much good bacteria. But it should have recovered by now. Could the sudden drop in pH be negatively impacting the filter?

Thanks again.

(P.S.: Earlier thread is here, in case needed for reference: (2) Attempting to Recover Once Lush Aquarium | The Planted Tank Forum )
 

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I appreciate the earlier thoughts regarding some general tank issues concerning suddenly unhealthy plants and beard algae. In my quest to address that, I think I may have caused some basic chemistry problems with my water.

Parameters:
Aquarium Water Source Water (city, not well)
pH 5.9 pH 7.6
KH 15 (or less) KH 50
GH 95 (I had been adding a little Equilibrium every other water change) GH 60
Ammonia 1.0
Nitrates 0 (or near )
Nitrite 0

Two weeks ago, when I did my every-6-week cleaning of my Fluval cannister filter, I removed a tray of old media and replaced with peat pellets. This was, in part, to soften the water in response to a beard algae problem. Also, I have tetras and angels. I do not want my aquarium water to have a 7.6 PH, but I worry that the peat, combined with the already low KH, has destabilized it. The question is, will adding pH alkaline buffer be futile if I keep the peat pellets in the filter? If so, how else can I safely lower the pH below the source water, without causing the crash I have now?

Second, the lack of nitrates and the steady levels of ammonia concern me that the biological filter is no longer cycling. Initially, I figured my replacing the media tray and some of the other cleaning may have removed too much good bacteria. But it
Responding to keep this thread active.



should have recovered by now. Could the sudden drop in pH be negatively impacting the filter?

Thanks again.

(P.S.: Earlier thread is here, in case needed for reference: (2) Attempting to Recover Once Lush Aquarium | The Planted Tank Forum )
I’m not sure that I understand your readings. Are you saying, for example, that your tap pH is 7.6 and your tank is 5.9? If so, then we ask why that is. Certainly, peat moss will bring it down, but I don’t think that it would have such a dramatic effect. However, it’s been too long since I’ve used peat moss, so I can’t be sure of that. Your water company may also be adding some form of hydroxide, which will temporarily raise pH levels. Most BB stop functioning at a pH of around 6, but some BB will step in at that level, to a smaller degree. Usually, it is our plants that take over the ammonia reduction when pH gets that low.

Ammonia will lower pH, despite the fact that it is a weak base, due to the breakdown processes. Is your ammonia reading REALLY 1.0ppm? That is high and indicates an uncycled tank. If your pH is below 7.0, the ammonia reading is indicating that you have ammonium, which is the much-safer form. However, if you REALLY have 1ppm TAN (Total Ammonia, which is what most of our tests read) do NOT let your pH go above the low 7’s or the ammonium will change to the deadly ammonia state.

pH can also be powered by CO2. Are you injecting CO2?

For now, forget about algae problems and get your ammonia under control. Then, focus upon plant health to get your algae under control. I suggest that, once you eliminate the ammonia problem, you provide as much of the following as possible, to help us understand your setup (forgive me if you’ve already provided some of this):

  • How long has the tank been setup?
  • Light (make & model): ideally, PAR and PUR reading at the substrate and photoperiod?
  • CO2 setup (if any) and, if you inject CO2 (pressurized or DIY?), what is the CO2 ppm level, how is it measured and how is it timed with your photoperiod?
  • Current NO3, PO4, GH, KH, pH and TDS readings and which test kits/devices are used for each?
  • What you are dosing (product and quantity), in terms of ppm, and how often?
  • Substrate type and how long has it been in place?
  • What is your filter setup?
  • Cleaning regimen (filter and water change frequency and amount)?
  • Circulation: surface rippling and are all plants gently moving from top to bottom?
  • What is your water source and do you use a water softener?
  • What is your tank size?
 
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks very much. Here are my responses:
  • How long has the tank been setup? About 14-months
  • Light (make & model): ideally, PAR and PUR reading at the substrate and photoperiod? Fluval 3.0 (just got it three weeks ago, in part to address algae issues). My setting as below. I started with the default "Planted Tank" setting, but that seemed way too bright. Plants did not respond well. So I manually dialed it back.
    1026696
  • CO2 setup (if any) and, if you inject CO2 (pressurized or DIY?), what is the CO2 ppm level, how is it measured and how is it timed with your photoperiod? I add a "non-glut based source of carbon" with my plant fertilizer. The label for it is in the link to my original post. A couple weeks ago, I doubled the dosage to address the beard algae issue. I don't have a CO2 system.
  • Current NO3, PO4, GH, KH, pH and TDS readings and which test kits/devices are used for each? API Masters Test Kit. NO3 continues to be zero. KH was zero or near zero, but last week I added Alkaline buffer. KH now at about 3 drops using the API kit, or about 53.7. pH shot up, as well (to 7.2), despite peat pellets remaining in the filter (source water is 7.6). GH remains at about 95. I don't currently have a way to measure PO4 or TDS.
  • What you are dosing (product and quantity), in terms of ppm, and how often? Through the first year, I used NA Thrive as my plant fert. and Brightwell Aquatics Discus Code as a trace supp. I use API tap water conditioner for each water change (usually 10-15% each week). Recent changes (past month) include adding the Alkaline buffer, stopping the addition of Excel (stopped about 8-weeks ago after we had the water softening system removed) more frequent and greater water changes, doubling the NA Thrive dose (I was using half a dose for the first year, largely to avoid algae and because the plants were growing like crazy). This past week, I added no Thrive after a 35% water change since I was worried that the carbon was causing the pH to dive. Perhaps that's one reason why the pH shot up.
  • Substrate type and how long has it been in place? Fluval plant substrate covered in a mix of fine and course gravel. All in place since aquarium setup 18-months ago.
  • What is your filter setup? Fluval 406 cannister; all media unchanged since tank set-up, other than addition of peat pellets two weeks ago and removal of ceramics that were in that tray. I rinse/lightly clean filter every 6-8 weeks.
  • Cleaning regimen (filter and water change frequency and amount)?
  • Circulation: surface rippling and are all plants gently moving from top to bottom? Yes.
  • What is your water source and do you use a water softener? Municipal water, had a water softener but it was removed recently (not needed -- dated back to when the home was on a well).
  • What is your tank size? 55 gal standard.
 

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Concerning the BBA, you have a fairly strong light source for a low-tech (no pressurized CO2) tank. I’m not familiar with what the Fluval 3.0 is delivering but, if I’m reading your settings right, it seems that you have about a 12-hour photoperiod and are peaking for about 6 hours at 75% of this strong light. This is too much for a low-tech tank. Hopefully, other members that are more familiar with this light can comment. I would start by cutting back your photoperiod to 6 hours and make the maximum point 50%. If things get better, you can then slowly expand the photoperiod. Your plants probably didn’t “like” the light because they were being driven to grow rapidly without nearly enough carbon.

I wouldn’t count on the so-called carbon source in Thrive C. There are still no sources listed on the ingredients that identify what this might be, but I suspect it may be based upon something called the Krebs Cycle which is not going to do much in terms of the carbon needed by our plants. Perhaps someone can, finally, clarify what exactly this nominal carbon source is supposed to be in Thrive C. My suggestion is to get NilocG’s Enhance or add the Excel back, which does augment - slightly - the carbon delivered by atmospheric CO2. Additionally, it will help as an algaecide.

The Fluval substrate, if it’s the Stratum, is an active substrate. Active substrates can start to become exhausted as they approach two years, but a ow-tech tank should go longer. to offset this possible loss, use the Thrive according to directions and watch the NO3. NO3 should not be zero as this indicates that the plants may be starved for nitrogen. However, it may be that the high light caused the plants to briefly strip the NO3. If it does not return to, at least, a 5ppm level within a week, you will need to start adding NO3 separately. Get a PO4 test kit. It may be that PO4 is also too low.

I’d also remove the peat moss to see if your pH rises. It is highly variable, as I recall, and you don’t need it since your tap seems to be well within acceptable ranges for GH and KH. I don’t see much that would explain the high ammonia readings, particularly since you are getting zero NO3 readings. It may be that your ammonia test kit has expired or is otherwise not reading correctly. Test your tap water to see if your get similar readings.

If you ammonia is still high, and you rule out a test kit failure, I think that you will have to focus upon your bio-media. Whatever else you have in your filter, make sure that you have sufficient bio-media. Also make sure that your mechanical media is cleaned well or replaced with each cleaning. I clean my filter every other week.

Changes can take several weeks to cause improvement. Things may get worse before they get better.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
This is extremely helpful. Thanks very much. I'll report back in a couple of weeks about what has happened so others can learn from it. One update -- after a 20% water change last evening, the pH tested at 6.5 this morning --- which is ideal, but odd since the source water PH is so high. I did not add any additional alkaline buffer, so that may be why it fell.
 

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This is extremely helpful. Thanks very much. I'll report back in a couple of weeks about what has happened so others can learn from it. One update -- after a 20% water change last evening, the pH tested at 6.5 this morning --- which is ideal, but odd since the source water PH is so high. I did not add any additional alkaline buffer, so that may be why it fell.
Let's see if it works and be sure to solve that ammonia issue ASAP. Your water company may be adding hydroxide, such as sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide (lime) to raise pH so that pipe erosion doesn't occur. This will be a brief issue and will also temporarily raise KH. You may want to check with them as this could explain the difference you see.

It is usually best to not fight your water, unless there is a compelling reason. A pH of 7.6 isn't what we would consider high, but many of us do like to see it lower when we run high-tech tanks (pressurized CO2 and difficult plants). This is one of the reasons that you will see many members using RO water. In that way, there is no fight - we just reconstitute it to our liking. I've successfully run many low-tech tanks, for many decades, at pH levels in the mid 7's.
 
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