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Old 05-20-2016, 08:51 PM   #1
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Tap water nitrate levels: Is 14-27 ppm a problem?

I've been struggling a bit with some algae problems in my tanks. Nothing huge, but I've also noticed that some of my fish aren't as active as they used to be. Water tests consistently show that my nitrate levels are high, and I can't seem to get them down. I'm doing 20% water changes every week, and sometimes twice a week when the levels are extra high. Nitrite and ammonia are zero. I don't think I'm overfeeding. I have a white sand bottom, a few shrimp, some otos, and some dwarf cats who eat all the leftovers, so I rarely see anything rotting on the bottom.

Out of curiosity, I downloaded my city's water quality report today. There is a bunch of stuff I don't understand the significance of, but under Nitrate (NO3), it says the average for my area is 14ppm, with a range as high as 27ppm. That seems like it could be contributing to my problem, and could also explain why when I test the water right after a water change, the nitrate levels don't come down as much as my arithmetic says they should. (Admittedly, I don't make a habit of testing my tap water. Maybe I should.)

I'm wondering what I should do. I know a lot of people would suggest RO water, but I've heard that RO water isn't great for plants and invertebrates. Should I start partially using RO water in my water changes? If I don't have time to make a special trip to buy it, can I just substitute distilled water from the grocery store?

Or am I completely misunderstanding the way municipal water reports work? Is their nitrate level not the same thing as the measurement I get when I use my test kit?

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Old 05-21-2016, 08:02 AM   #2
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What is the tank nitrate reading?

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Old 05-21-2016, 08:47 AM   #3
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I would test your tap water and see what it comes back with. The water report isn't necessarily spot on.
What are your current nitrate levels in your aquarium?
What size is the tank?
What is in the tank? (Species and numbers)
I would be doing closer to 30-40% water changes every week for a tank that isn't under or overstocked.
Do you siphon the sand when you change the water? Under the decorations and everything?
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Old 05-21-2016, 09:25 AM   #4
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Tap water that high may be a human health issue. I would google nitrate in drinking water and blue baby syndrome. Problem is, no one in power will give poop if you like it or not. They will just tell you it is fine don't worry.
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Old 05-21-2016, 12:48 PM   #5
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Nitrates were reading in the 50-60 ppm range. It took 3 weeks of 20% water changes twice per week to get it down to 40 ppm, and it's a struggle to get it to stay there.

It's a 20 gallon tank with 5 cory cats, a flower shrimp, 2 cherry shrimp, 2 otos, and 4 white clouds. That's a little more than the 1 inch per gallon rule, but the tank is also heavily planted, and I have two filters going - a HOB biowheel, and an internal. The tank has been up for about 6 months, and even before I realized the nitrate problem, I was doing 20% water changes once a week.

The white sand is very fine - the kind that's almost like a powder. It's supposed to be better for the cories. You can't vacuum anywhere close to it, or it sucks right up with the water. But it's supposed to keep the tank cleaner than gravel because it compacts and doesn't leave any gaps where debris can sink down into it and decompose. And it's white, so I can see any debris that collects on top and pick it up with a net or a long spoon. But no, I don't vacuum up my substrate every couple of days, wash it out, and dump it back into the tank. I thought you weren't supposed to do that.

We went through a little patch of rainy weather a month or two ago, and the tap water always smells funky in L.A. when there's any rain. So maybe there was a lot of organic matter in the tap water from all the runoff, and my water changes weren't very effective because the nitrates were pretty high in the tap water to begin with.

I'm thinking about keeping the lights off for a few days to kill the algae, but will that mess up my water chemistry even more if I'm starving my plants of light?

How safe is it to do a 40-50% water change when you have shrimp? Are they sensitive to that?
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Old 05-21-2016, 02:09 PM   #6
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The inch per gallon rule isn't accurate at all, unfortunately. Cories and otos need to be in groups of 6+ and I don't think your white clouds are temp compatible.

Your shrimp will be fine as long as the temperature of the water in the tank and the temperature of the water you're putting in is the same or very close.

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Old 05-21-2016, 05:02 PM   #7
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Just increase the water change amount. While lower is always better, its a good rule of thumb to try and keep it under 40ppm which is obtainable in your situation.

Just increase water change amounts to at least 50% and it should drop around there for you.

"The simplest explanation for some phenomenon is more likely to be accurate than more complicated explanations." -Occam's razor
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