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Pond water quality article

     Water Quality
  PondStuff! Monthly Pond & Water Gardening Newsletter

A Quick Note About Water Quality

We've all been guilty of it at one time or another - but many pond owners get all stressed out and worked up about adding all the 'right' chemicals, additives, etc. to their pond, hoping that it will keep their fish healthier and happier.

Not that there aren't some really good additives out there, but the bottom line is that if you just focus on keeping your water quality high, and your pond clean of debris and decaying organics - you should be in pretty good shape.

Here are the essentials of good water quality:

Oxygen - This is one of the fundamental elements that many pond owners ignore.  Your fish can't breathe air like we can, so they need a high enough concentration of oxygen in the water to survive.  If you are not aerating your water sufficiently, for example, by running a waterfall, fountain, or spitter, then you may be depriving your fish of the precious oxygen they need to survive.

Especially in the warmer summer months, you need to make sure that you are aerating your water well enough to keep the oxygen content high enough for your fish.  As the water warms up, the water actually holds LESS oxygen than at colder temperatures.  If you have lots of fish, or if your pond is overcrowded, then this can be especially dangerous.

So, just because everything was ok in the springtime - don't assume that your fish have enough oxygen in July/August when things really heat up.  Summer is a good time to think about installing an additional fountain or air pump.  You can usually just go down to your local pet shop and pick up a large aquarium air pump, some airline tubing, and an airstone and drop that into the pond for some extra oxygen.  This is not practical for larger ponds, but is a great way to aerate smaller ponds. 

Larger ponds usually have a bigger waterfall, so are usually ok - but don't be careless and leave your waterfall off during the hot mid-day hours or you may see your fish gasping for air at the surface.  If you ever do see your fish gasping at the surface, it's a sure fire sign that they are not getting enough oxygen from the pond water, and that you need to aerate your water more.

pH - Fish can live in a wide range of different pH's, but it's very important to note that sudden changes in pH can be very stressful for your fish.  And also important to know, is that a 1 point change in pH is actually a 10 TIMES DIFFERENCE!  pH is measured on a logarithmic scale, so the difference between a pH of 7 and 8 is not just 1 to the fish, it's 10 times different - so be very careful when raising or lowering your pH in your pond.  You never want to go from a low pH of 6.5 straight to 7.5 or 8, or vice-versa.  This would be very stressful for the fish, and can even be fatal.

This is also important to keep in mind when doing water changes, or adding new fish to your pond.  Always try to acclimate your fish to new water, and always test the pH of both new water and compare it to the old water.  Try to make adjustments to the pH beforehand, or again - acclimate your fish slowly, over 15 minutes or so.  This will prevent unnecessary stress on your fish.

Ammonia/Nitrite -  Some pond owners are still not aware of the dangers of Ammonia and Nitrite in the pond, and the potentially deadly effects they can have.  Here's a quick review of the Nitrogen Cycle in your pond. 

Fish produce liquid waste in the form of Ammonia, which is very toxic to fish at higher levels.  In an established pond, and ideally with an established bio-filter, a good bacteria called Nitrosomas feeds on the Ammonia and breaks it down into another toxic chemical called Nitrite.

Another beneficial form of bacteria called Nitrobacter, uses the Nitrite as a food source, and breaks it down into Nitrate, which is non-toxic and is absorbed by plants or just breaks down in sunlight.  This is the same natural process that occurs in nature.

However, in overcrowded ponds, or ponds without a properly sized biological filter, the levels of Ammonia and Nitrite can build to dangerous levels.  At higher levels, this can severely stress the fish and can either lead to disease by weakening the immune system over time, or can cause death by Ammonia or Nitrite poisoning.  Every pond owner should have an Ammonia and Nitrite test kit, and periodically test for these levels.

We'll get into how to handle high levels of Ammonia and Nitrite in future articles, but for now just be aware that this can be dangerous.

Algae - Having too much algae in the pond, especially green water algae, can be detrimental to the fish because while algae and plants give off oxygen during the day, they absorb oxygen during the night - and give off carbon monoxide.  So, if you pond is very green, you can have your dissolved oxygen levels fall to dangerous levels during the night and early morning.  I've seen complete pond wipe-outs happen this way. 

A bad algae bloom and poor aeration caused a massive fish die off at the Japanese Embassy several years ago.  They had their large waterfall turned off, and the shallow 50,000 pond had an algae bloom that essentially wiped out half of their 400 KOI collection.

They called me over to diagnose the problem, and at first we couldn't find anything wrong.  Ammonia and Nitrite levels were fine, none of the fish showed any signs of disease - but when we tested the dissolved oxygen levels of the water, it was clear that the fish had essentially suffocated overnight as the suspended algae sucked all of the oxygen out of the water. 

Parasites/Bacteria Control -  This element really should not be much of a worry to you if you keep your eye on all of the other elements above.  Fish are like people in that they always have some parasites and bacteria in or on them (just like we always carry the common cold), but their immune system keeps them healthy and disease free.

However, if their immune system is overly stressed, by say high Ammonia/Nitrite levels, or rapid changes in water temperature or pH, then their immune system can be affected and they can get sick. 

If you do notice that your fish have obvious growths, or disease - treat them quickly and aggressively to avoid the other fish getting sick.  You should always have the ability to set up a hospital or quarantine tank quickly, to isolate sick fish. 

Similarly, always try to quarantine new fish, for two weeks or so, before adding them to your pond.  Many pet store goldfish and koi are so stressed out by being transported, and by being in over crowded conditions, that it's easy to pick up some kind of parasite or bacterial infection from adding new fish to your pond. 

But that's really all you have to worry about!  By keeping your pond stable and healthy according to the above parameters, you should not have any trouble with your pond all season.  No need to buy all those (sometimes) expensive additives and treatments.  Just make sure that you do have a properly sized filter and a way to aerate the pond, and you should be just fine...

 

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