Page 1 of 2

PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 11:49 am
by Jim S
Hello all,

Three months ago I moved from a home with "city" water to a home with well water and two months later began losing my long time kuhlii's (AND my Julii cats) left and right. I've had my 55g tank for well over a decade. With the city water, my tank struggled with excessive nitrite levels, but I was adding plants, doing more water changes, etc and the kuhlii's were happy and healthy for over a year. I had 11 of them, watched them double in size and they existed very contently, even staying out regularly during the day. Tank only has guppies, kuhlii's, julii's, a 3 year old pleco and a year old bristlenose. The kuhlii's and julii's were all doing great until about 2 weeks ago, 3 months after moving.

I added some jungle val (which is thriving, by the way) and IMMEDIATELY began losing my healthy kuhlii's over night and now I'm down to 4 plus one all black loach in ten days and 1 julii. None of them showed any indication of injury, disease, stress or bloating. They were eating, foraging and had plenty of cover for hiding as they always had, but every morning I found another one that didn't survive the night. At first I thought maybe it was just aging because they were purchased at the same time quite awhile ago, still full color and didn't look any different. All other water parameters are solidly inline with where a 55g long tank should be.

I do weekly water changes, pulling approx 7 gallons every 10 days or so, rinse my 3 filter pads monthly from two different hanging filters. The problem seems to be that with every water change I LOSE more fish. Through advice from my very knowledgeable, privately owned LFS (the well water tested 8.2 pH), I began to treat the water in a large bucket prior to adding to the tank with two drops of API pH down and 1-2 ml of API Tap Water Conditioner, but I'm still losing kuhlii's and julii's and now my guppies are stressing. I'm not really a fan of chemical treatments, so can anyone suggest some way of controlling/lowering the pH level enough that I can still enjoy kuhlii's? I have three pieces of driftwood on the way and don't have excessive cash to invest, so any (simple) help will be greatly appreciated. I really don't want a tank where I have no kuhlii's.

I'll gladly provide a picture of the tank if I can figure out how attach one.


Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 9:45 pm
by NancyD
I suspect it's something other than just high pH in your well water causing trouble. Guppies like higher pH/harder water. You're likely causing a yoyo effect with your additives & that can be very stressful. If, as I understand you, your kuhlis & cories are ~10 years old? That's a ripe old age & probably much more difficult for them to adapt to new water & especially the up & down additive thing.

Do you have other tests for all your tank parameters? (ammonia, nitrite & nitrate, plus GH & KH? TDS?) Have you ever seen a water quality report on your well water? Wells can have almost anything in them, high iron, ammonia, nitrate or something else...arsenic? high copper? I'd be apt to filter my drinking & fish's water with RO or at least carbon...Do you have small children? I'm not trying to be alarmist, just more pragmatic...Do you own or rent?

In a general way, where in the world do you live? Others may know more about your particular area or seasonal issues...

Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 11:36 pm
by Jim S
Thanks for reaching out.

I live in rural eastern Pennsylvania.

I'll try to clarify a few points. The TANK has been running for 10 years, the kuhli loaches and juli cats were all well over a year old.

I'm not good with keeping track or understanding all the parameter science, so I trust my privately owned and operated LFS when I have issues. All bottom dwellers were doing great for over a year, even after I moved three months ago. I was careful with the relocation, moved the fish in a bucket of tank water that had an airstone the entire time and reused the bucket water, same gravel, filters, etc. and introduced the well water gradually into the bucket. I waited to add the fish to the tank until the water had cleared and everything settled down.

For over two months after the move, all the fish were doing great with regular 10 per cent weekly water changes until I added a bunch of jungle val. As soon as I added the val, my bottom dwellers started to die within 24 hours. I took tap/well water as well as tank water samples to the experts who are happy to test water any time and found my tank and tap water were pretty much identical with 8.2 pH levels which I know are way too high for my bottom feeders. All other tests I was told were very good. I thought maybe I picked up something with the new plants and did two half tank water changes in the next week with no chemicals.

I didn't start using chemicals until the testing was done after they recommended gradually lowering my pH closer to 7.0 because the loaches and cats don't do well with the higher alkaline levels.

So now I'm down to one juli cat (from 5) who seems to be fading and 5 loaches (from 11) who seem to be doing great - but so were the others right up until they died. Along with those survivors I have a bristlenose, a pleco, 6 or 7 adult guppies and maybe 20 guppy fry ranging in age from 6 months to 4 weeks who all seem more stressed since I started to try and lower the pH. It's a 55 gallon tank with 2 hanging filters, many jungle val, two beautiful adult amazon sword plants and five young amazon sword plants I pulled from the main ones. All the plants are thriving. I've got the same polished gravel mixed with the red "healthy, natural" clay gravel I've had for years. I kept everything I had prior to the move, even the snails. I have an led light that is programmed to cycle like natural light daily.

What I find so odd is that the loaches look perfectly fine, even in death. No marks, spots, injuries, fungus, odd behavior...nothing. Old age? Shock? Poison? The vals or alkaline pH? Tired charcoal in the filters? I hate changing things and only add chemicals as a last resort.


Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 3:32 am
by Bas Pels
I think Nancy is right assuming it must be something else, but this could rather easily be tested.

If you take a bucket, drill some hoes in the bottom and fill it with peat, you have the perfect preparator for your water. By allowing water to go through this bucket, it will lower it´s pH and might even get a bit softer.

This is a rather reliable system, and the bucket can be used a few moths before replacing the peat.

However, well water might be poor in oxygen. I would bubble air through it for a day before using it. This cannot be the reason your Corydoras died, as these can breathe air, but it is somethig to keep in account too.

Re: PH Problem? (high alkalinity)

Posted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 1:40 pm
by Jim S
Do we feel an 8.2 pH is acceptable for kuhli's to adapt to or survive in?

What effect would new carbon filters have on the tank's ecosystem? I've seen conflicting documentation stating "not much" and that water changes are far more effective, but I'm concerned about the well water now, so prepping that is a must if I'm going to try to get closer to 7.0 pH.

Just remembered, we are VERY heavy in limestone in the area. (Which is why the cement industry started right here 100+ years ago.) What does lime do to water numbers?

Maybe I should just use gallon jugs of store bought water? (But my well water is free, darn it! LOL)

If I fill gallon jugs with my tap well water and let them sit for a few days, will that lower the pH in them in the jug?

Could it have just been a coincidence that all this happened after I added the jungle val? Maybe all the new greenery put the pH over the edge, pick up some kind of parasite or maybe zinc, copper or some other chemical from the roots of the jungle val? I do have API water conditioner that I can add to the bucket water.

How will the peat moss filter effect the other tank residents? (Guppies and plecos) I need to add more bottom feeders now, but trying to be patient, hoping this settles down because I really want to replenish my kuhli's and cory's.

Is there another loach that maybe does better in a higher pH environment just in case I decide to let the tank be a stable, consistent 8.2?

I'll take another water sample to my LFS and to get more numbers later today. I really hate adding chemicals all the time and fear that if I have to work so hard to get the pH from 8+ to 7.0 that it will just constantly be a shock threat every time it rains or doesn't rain and my water changes/adds could just be detrimental. Honestly, I thought that well water was going to be BETTER for my tank. <sigh>

Lost three more adult guppies last night that have been in the tank for months and couldn't find my black loach. The other 4 kuhli's were out and about foraging normally.

Sorry for the barrage of question. Stay tuned, and thank you for ALL input.


Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 10:36 pm
by NancyD
Well, I lived in N. DE 20 years ago, so I understand the limestone memory of that time...we were on city water then...not well water.

Fish can adapt to a wide range of pH variables over time, but I find it disturbing that it's both your hard water, high pH guppies & your soft water, lower pH loaches & cories...carbon is NOT the answer here, but it doesn't hurt anything either.

It still makes me think there's something else going on for all your fish to be dying/unhappy. Are you on a "sole owner" type well or part of a housing group all on 1 well system? Have you tested for the basic parameters? (I use a API "master test kit") but there can be many more issues as I said before.

Well water testing can be very expensive...Does your county offer low cost tests? Home owners association? Check online & ask by phone...I think someone in your county/community may help. Look around in your area...

Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Sun Oct 06, 2019 4:39 am
by Bas Pels
Kuhlis come from the warm, swampy areas downstream. If you try to imagine such an area, it is very rich in cecaying plant material - stuff which maked the water acidic. I wonder whether they can adapt to pH = 8, and if they manage, it will cost tem enormously. Think of reducing their lifespan by half or worse.

I would not want to try that myself. But would the kuhlis die in a day? No.

Carbon is a good aid to remouve traces of organic materials from water, such as medicines. Further metals might attach themselves to it, depending on pH, but OH- and H+ will not do that. Therefore carbon will not influence your pH.
In case metals attach themselves to carbon, tis is due to the influence the pH has on the metal not on the carbon.

Carbon would be a waste of money.

Nancy is, however completely right in assuming the well water might carry something else which does the fishes in. Don´t know what, it could be anything.

However, if I were offered a drink of water, knowing this water killed some fished, I´d decline. You better not drink this water untill you know what happened. And I don´t think this is the pH.

Re: PH Problem (too alkaline) - update

Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2019 2:34 pm
by Jim S
I think I may be on to something based on a lot of folks' communication and thoughts here. PART of the issue may be the off-the-chart pH level, but I agree that there is more. I have slightly lowered my tank temp (from 79/80 to 77/78) and began using 1 gallon jugs of spring water during water changes. From time to time I have noticed a slight sulfur smell in the well-fed tap water. If the deaths weren't from some kind of fertilizer on all the jungle val I added or bacteria from the well, I'm thinking that I could have had a spike in hydrogen sulfide due to rain (or lack thereof). The remaining 5 loaches seem to be just fine, casually foraging constantly even during the day. My last juli cat has lost his barbels which could indicate a bacteria issue, but is still eating and foraging. I know he needs more tank mates, so maybe I'll add some corys this weekend if he looks like he's still doing ok.

So my question for today is this: If it is a sulfur variable, will allowing the water to sit in buckets for 24 hours be enough to make it safe? On hand, I have API Tap Water Conditioner, API Proper PH 7.0 and API Aquarium Salt. FYI, I have ZERO salt in my tank at this time except for what may have been in the bucket of old tank water three months ago.

(I will also most likely build a peat bucket filter soon - thank you!)

Jim, can someone explain how to add pictures here?

Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2019 10:22 am
by Basil
Welcome Jim! I’m not that far from you in N. Central MD. I’m also on well water but am in an area devoid of limestone. So my well water tests at about 11dGH, 0 dKH, and between ph of 5.3-5.6. As the api kit only tests ph down to 6.0, the ph values were from commercial testing that was done several years apart. Nitrates also fluctuate between 10-40 so trying to keep nitrate levels down, especially for loaches as I’ve read they like clean water, was problematic. I have botia dario and sidthimunki in two different tanks.

Anyhow, I was stressing and killing fish after a water change. And I killed a whole quarantine tank of botia dario. Well all except one.
It was definitely my well water but I wasn’t certain exactly what was the issue. That’s when I had the commercial testing done. They tested for common contaminants of lead, copper, and chloride (for road salt). All were negligible.
So I switched to RO water purchased from my LFS. We eventually purchased a 5 phase RO/DI system from BRS ( Bulk Reef Supply) and my tanks have been pretty stable since then.
Since I’ve since educated myself on the parameters of my well water, I guess I could doctor it to get ideal parameters but I’m finding it pretty easy to just mix up a 32 gallon Brute trashcan of RO water for water changes. I use Seachem Equilibrium, alkaline buffer, and acid buffer. And the nitrates stay low. Oh , and I absolutely have to aerate the mix. My well is about 93 feet deep and we are in an area of a good bit of granite so I am thinking part of the very low ph is due to low oxygen levels. And my guess is the fish were dying from ph shock. And yes, I did purchase more botia darios and they are doing great! Well, except for eating the tails of a couple of the golden diamond barbs. Gregarious creatures!
But an excuse to set up a new tank for the barbs!
So sorry bout the novel but hope it helps!!

Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2019 10:24 am
by Basil
Oh and adding pictures is a pain. You need to first put them on a photo hosting sight. I use Picturetrail. Then copy the URL for bulletin boards and paste here.

Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2019 10:57 am
by Jim S
Thanks for all the input and positive thoughts, Basil!

Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2019 1:44 pm
by Jim S
Trying to post some pictures for your more trained eyes.


...see anything that looks "off"?

Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2019 3:22 pm
by Bas Pels
Some things are not very beautifull to me. Such as a castle under water - but hey, if you like it, never mind

Still, such a castle could contain calcium. But that is the only serious thing I would mention about it, your decoration looks to me as if it could harden your water. But than, I'm not a geolologist

For the rest, kuhli like to have some dead material, or peat, to crawl in

Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2019 9:43 pm
by NancyD
I agree with Bas, there's no telling what your castle or rocks are made of. That white lumpy rock is concerning...The castle also might trap detritus leading to anaerobic pockets...those might cause trouble as well.

I like all your plants! & your kuhli looks fat & healthy...but something is wrong...

Re: PH Problem (too alkaline)

Posted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 1:33 pm
by Jim S
Updating thoughts.

I've had the castle in the tank for well over 10 years and it was the first "ornament". I really enjoy it and the pleco and bristlenose spend a lot time on it. Fish are in and out of it all the time and my moss achors to it easily. It provides a full secluded area for any fish looking for some privacy as the entire inside is open. The loaches also like to take cover under its edges. Being aware that bad things chemically might build up because of it, you'll notice that why I have it directly in front of the two filters to keep water moving around and through it.

As far as the white gravel goes, this has also been mixed into the tank for over 10 years and is, if memory serves, a calcium based product. I added that originally because the tap city tap water was higher in acidity and other materials. It was recommended by a LFS to help maintain balance.

The pieces of slate/shale, red brick and quartz that I've stacked to form the cave hiding area were all added well over 8 years ago after researching ways to help maintain water consistencies. Many of the guppies sleep within the cave and three of the loaches live under them. Both the pleco and bristlenose spend a lot of time on the undersides of the slate.

The pieces of coral in the middle of the tank were added maybe two years ago to attach the young amazon swords. Some loaches were living under them as I positioned the pieces to create little lairs under them.

The shells are in to provide even more cover for the loaches and are the primary living spaces for them. The larger white fake coral in the last pic is an old piece from another tank that I only readded about a week ago, well after the trouble began. The bristlenose has adopted this piece as it's safety zone and hiding place whenever I startle him. I also thought this might help to grow some good algae for the pleco and bristlenose to munch on on the pitted areas.

What is meant by, "...water looks too hard." What is being seen that would indicate the water was hard?

I just changed out 3 gallons of water, adding spring water with just a little Perfect pH and Water Conditioner premixed, poured directly into the filter to help disperse the new water. Fingers crossed!