Water Softener Problems

MooseTheWizard

Candiru
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Jan 22, 2017
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I've moved into a new house in July of this year, and have had my aquariums set up since then. Previously I had these tanks and most fish within them for several years.

I noticed that my rope fish were slowly but surely acting a little odd in this new water. I lost one, the rest were swimming a little oddly (bloat, tail up, struggling with balance) but nothing too dramatic. I've since lost a second. Each time it's a pretty slow process, with things slowly getting worse over a few weeks.

I have been trying to think of anything that could be the problem, and finally stumbled on a YouTube video talking about this.

For reference my pH is ~7.5, my KH is ~200 and my GH is ~60. My ammonia/nitrite are 0, and my nitrate out of the tap is 0. I do weekly WCs of about 80% (and have for years w/o problems), and my nitrates usually top out around 40.

I am assuming the water softener is the culprit here. All of my other fish seem fine, but this is all I can think of.

I am hoping some people can chime in with their experience. I have been thinking of setting up a tankless water heater disconnected from the main water treatment system. The water treatment system comprises of a iron/sulfur filter, a softener, UV filter, and then a sediment filter. If I go the tankless route I will set up a duplicate UV and sediment filter as my water tests positive for e. coli and comes from a shallow well.
 

jjohnwm

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I have my well water treated only by an electronic de-scaler; this doesn't actually soften the water, i.e. it doesn't remove anything or alter the chemistry, but it drastically reduces the amount of calcium crust that builds up on faucets, etc. The crust that does appear is relatively soft and much more easily removed than without the descaler. I drink my well water and the descaler does not alter the taste of it at all. This water also is used in my aquariums without any problems. Perhaps something for you to look into?

I'll be following this thread with interest to see how you progress with the tankless heater idea. I currently use 55-gallon plastic barrels tucked into my crawlspace to preheat my change water. This necessitates a separate heater in each barrel (I now have four) and is just very unwieldy and inefficient. I have been toying recently with the idea of a small, single-sink-size tankless on-demand heater, which should save me a huge amount of electricity, and would not limit me to the water volume I have on hand during water changes. I'm looking forward to seeing your progress. Please keep us posted!
 
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duanes

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Rope fish are fairly sensitive to pH changes, of even a 10th or 2, so if your new water is drastically different than the old, this could be the problem..
And a pH of 7.5 is at the upper end of what they tolerate.
To lower pH some rain water added to water changes might help.
Also they are said to be sensitive to nitrate buildup, and a nitrate level of 40ppm (To me) is quite dangerously high.
So my solution might be more frequent water changes, because in that way pH might remain stable.
Water softening that removes calcium, also removes important buffering capacity of water which can allow pH to swing wildly if water changes are only once per week, or even less frequently, and are large enough for pH to crash during the interim between changes.
One other problem with water softening, is if it is the kind that replaces the calcium ion with the sodium ion (by using salt) certain species may be sensitive to the salinity buildup.
 
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MooseTheWizard

Candiru
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Jan 22, 2017
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Do you have the option of bypassing the water softener?
The water softener does have a bypass, and I am thinking that I will do my water changes with that. So I will have softened water from my water heater, and then unsoftened water from the cold tap which is ~70% of the water used. I am hoping this leads to better results.

I have my well water treated only by an electronic de-scaler; this doesn't actually soften the water, i.e. it doesn't remove anything or alter the chemistry, but it drastically reduces the amount of calcium crust that builds up on faucets, etc. The crust that does appear is relatively soft and much more easily removed than without the descaler. I drink my well water and the descaler does not alter the taste of it at all. This water also is used in my aquariums without any problems. Perhaps something for you to look into?

I'll be following this thread with interest to see how you progress with the tankless heater idea. I currently use 55-gallon plastic barrels tucked into my crawlspace to preheat my change water. This necessitates a separate heater in each barrel (I now have four) and is just very unwieldy and inefficient. I have been toying recently with the idea of a small, single-sink-size tankless on-demand heater, which should save me a huge amount of electricity, and would not limit me to the water volume I have on hand during water changes. I'm looking forward to seeing your progress. Please keep us posted!
I live on liquid rock, and I don't think a descaler would work for my purposes. I talked about this with the company when I was getting the softener installed, and it was an option but a less effective one.

Rope fish are fairly sensitive to pH changes, of even a 10th or 2, so if your new water is drastically different than the old, this could be the problem..
And a pH of 7.5 is at the upper end of what they tolerate.
To lower pH some rain water added to water changes might help.
Also they are said to be sensitive to nitrate buildup, and a nitrate level of 40ppm (To me) is quite dangerously high.
So my solution might be more frequent water changes, because in that way pH might remain stable.
Water softening that removes calcium, also removes important buffering capacity of water which can allow pH to swing wildly if water changes are only once per week, or even less frequently, and are large enough for pH to crash during the interim between changes.
One other problem with water softening, is if it is the kind that replaces the calcium ion with the sodium ion (by using salt) certain species may be sensitive to the salinity buildup.
Yea, I think the main problem is the sodium ion and the pH swings. I frankly don't think the 40ppm of nitrate is the culprit. While I agree it is on the high end, they've been doing very well for years with a weekly WC and maxing out at ~40ppm of nitrate. They've only started reacting now on this new water. I think I am going to kind of tackle this in two ways. As I said above, I am going to use the bypass so that it's a ~70/30 mix of softened/unsoftened water. This will creep towards 50/50 as I get into the winter months as the ground water will start to get freezing cold. Winter is another reason I won't be using rain water - it's not possible for me to collect it for a good chunk of the year, unless I somehow melt snow or something else but that isn't realistic I don't think.

In addition to doing the mix of softened/unsoftened water I will stop doing the 80% chances I used to do while I was on municipal water, and start doing two 40% changes a week. This should keep the water more consistent and prevent any drastic swings.

As a side note I am currently putting together some plans to turn my garage into a fish room, where the bichirs/rope fish that currently live in a 125 will be moving to a ~1000 gallon system on a drip system. That's when I'll also go for the separate water line specifically for the fish, so I have a tankless water heater, etc.

I am going to go do some water changes right now, so will report back on how this new schedule works as time goes on. I've read about every post on this site regarding water softeners now and really haven't seen anything concrete, but I hope my experience will be able to help some folks in the future.
 

deeda

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Sounds good to try the softener bypass first and it's what I used to do when I had a tank hot water heater. Eventually I added more tanks and ended up replacing the 'normal' hot water tank with a tank-less heater and it works out great and takes up less room since it's not on the floor.
 

freak78

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I have well water ran through a water softner. I have lots of iron in my water, has that orange tint when it's just out of an outside faucet not hooked up through the softner. I run both my got and cold through the softner. My ph stays around 8.2. I've never really had an issues with my fish. I've tried a lot of them but most will adjust. I currently have wild Orinoco Altums living in this water probably going on three years now.
 

twentyleagues

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My hot water line is run off the main that goes through the softener. The cold I tapped into before the softener. These go into a thermal mixing valve and into a sediment and carbon filter before entering the tanks. My water is extremely hard 14+dkh on average. No issues with my polys or ropefish I moved in last August so I've been here just over a year.
 
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