We all wish to recreate the best case scenario and closest representation of a natural reef in our aquariums. How we go about achieving this is where many of us fail or may not be reaping the benefits compared to the effort employed. One major source of little return on your investment can be directly traced to your water used to make saltwater. If you are not taking the necessary steps to ensure your water is ideal for use in your aquarium, the full beauty, health and success of your tank may never be realized.
Toxins are common in tap water and can cause health problems not only for us as drinking water but can also inflict serious problems for aquarium livestock as well. Materials like herbicides, pesticides, chlorine, petroleum, radium, radon gas and heavy metals can all be found in regular tap water and depending on where you live other contaminants and higher levels of these may be evident. Phosphates and silicates are also problematic when it comes to experiencing algae blooms like cyanobacteria, diatoms and Bryopsis in your aquarium.
Pathogens are commonly associated with municipal water and as a way of combating these from becoming dangerously high and problematic, chlorine and chloramines are added. Chlorine and chloramines are forms of oxidants and enter the living cells of pathogens and quickly kill them before they can build up and cause sickness and other ailments to us.
Chlorine is administered as a gas, quickly dissipates and is effected by temperature and other environmental concerns so the amount of chlorine fluctuates from one municipality to the next. Chlorine works more efficiently than chlorine’s at killing microorganisms, though it forms carcinogens similar to those found in cigarettes. Because of the rapid reduction of chlorine found in municipal tap water, continuous additions of chlorine have to be used and even elevated levels must be achieved to maintain levels optimal for destroying pathogens. As a result of this downfall in chlorine, chlorine’s have been used in combination with or as a sole alternative to chlorine use by municipalities.
Chlorine’s are formed by combining chlorine gas with a liquified form of ammonia gas in water that remains in water longer than with chlorine alone and also works well as a beside. Chloramines are more stable at elevated pH levels, often times associated with municipal tap water above 7.5 and is less corrosive to pipes when pH levels drop below 7. Chlorine’s are not successful at reducing virus in water hence the combining chlorine and chloramines for water treatment.
What does this have to do with water used for water changes and making saltwater for a new marine aquarium you are asking? Here goes…
Fishes and other living animals, including bacteria will show signs of stress to chlorine and chloramines encountered in regular tap water. 0.002 mg/l is the maximum level in which no observable signs of stress will be encountered by livestock, thats a very minute level. Above this level and many animals will suffer from anorexia which is caused by reduced oxygen to the bloodstream. Bacteria will die off and fish will be seen swimming at the top of the tank gasping for air so to speak. Chlorine and chloramine levels can fluctuate and depending on the species of fish, health and other factors the severity of having these compounds in your water may differ. Because of the nature of chlorine’s with water pH below 7, corrosion of lead and copper pipes is common and is a direct result of ammonia in the water once the chlorine’s destroy the pathogens. Ammonia, rust, copper and lead are not what you want to introduce into your water either. Municipalities will add orthophosphates(inorganic form of phosphates) and silicates as a protective measure to combat erosion. To make things worse, often times our water has elevated nitrites and nitrates as an end result of the free ammonia being converted by nitrifiers(bacteria), much in the same way as the nitrogen cycle carries out.
So what does this all mean? That if we do not do anything to condition and purify our tap water, our aquariums and the livestock residing in it are in trouble! Fortunately, water conditioners are easily obtained at your local pet shops and on line venues. These water conditioners will remove ammonia, chlorine and chloramines as well as heavy metals like lead and copper. This will help to ensure that your water is safe to use by removing many contaminants that you may not expect to see in regular municipally treated water.
If you want to increase the chances of not introducing harsh metals and toxins and reliance on water conditioners you can either buy natural salt water direct from the ocean, purchase distilled or spring water or take it a step further and invest in a RO/DI filtration unit that produces sterilized water by removing all the bad stuff. Bare bones, three, four or five stage filtration units can be purchased and can produce anywhere from 25 to a a hundred gallons of filtered water.
With the money, dedication and time involved with our saltwater aquarium investment and more importantly the livestock residing in our tanks, providing ideal water conditions is crucial. In addition to stable water temperature, salinity, pH and alkalinity, the reduction of toxins, heavy metals, chlorine and chloramines, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, silicates and phosphates can provide many of the pieces to the puzzle in attempts to create the most beautiful, healthy and enjoyable closed system aquarium available.