Thursday, February 13, 2014

This is a reprint from the MPKS newsletter on “pH Crash” –Q&A.

This is a reprint from the MPKS newsletter on “pH Crash” –Q&A. It contains several things that I have talked about in my blog. Like pH crashing because your filtration is dead in the winter months. The use of Oyster shells and how they are pH dependent and will do nothing to help ones pond until a lower pH is reached like that of 6.0-6.5 pH. And how Ammonia levels and Nitrates are zero in my pond using an AFS but this hobbyist asking the question already has an Ammonia level of 0.50 ppm and Nitrates of 20 ppm. If the cold weather doesn’t kill your Koi then the bad water parameters will, due to the lack of or improper Nitrogen Cycle.

So I will say this once more for those that maybe can’t understand: The AFS does not die-off like conventional filtration systems do in the winter time, it keeps working all year long as long as it is running to carrying out its chemical and biological processes. Yogas in Indonesia has been dealing with rain and more rain all season long in his country and his pond has no pH crash using the AFS. You NEVER have to use bacterial boosters ever once the AFS cycles, even if you shut it down in the winter months. You will never have “New Pond Syndrome” ever again using an AFS.

Read more on AFS shutdown in the UK and it still saved the day for one hobbyist.

They’re your Koi and you can do whatever you like with them, but please think long-term filtration when building a Koi pond and stop thinking the same way hobbyists did 60 years ago. Science has come a long way in understanding what just 30 years ago was never heard of. The AFS workings are as old as earth itself and now it is available to the hobbyist for free. You can accept what man makes from plastic or what Mother Nature does in natural ponds and lakes using specialized residual facultative bacteria like that, that is used in the AFS. However, if you’re the kind of hobbyist that loves adding chemicals and spending your money on old-time cure-all remedy’s, then you will end up like this hobbyist someday!


I just had my first pH crash and after researching everything possible to fix and recover from it I now have a BRAIN OVERLOAD.

Carolyn from Microbe-Lift sent me your web link to get some answers from a pro (thus-YOU).

I’m in Charlotte NC and 9 yrs ago I built a 4000 gal Koi pond and have 9 Koi (18-24’’) left (born in the pond, hand fed and named), I also have 15 goldfish. I have a 200 gal media filter box and 200 gal bio filters box both with up flow water that goes back to the pond. I also have a waterfall, UV light, skimmer and everything is running on two 5000 gph pumps with plenty of circulation. I faithfully clean out mechanical filter and do a 10-15% water change every week using ML/Xtreme for conditioner (after pH crash I will also continue them through the winter months). I have never had a problem with the pond until pH crashed (a ton of rain) 2 weeks ago and lost 4 of my biggest Kio. With the cold weather and holidays I’m embarrassed to say the pond gets neglected for a couple months in winter. Now I need some help to recover from this.

I’ve been using baking soda to bring pH and KH levels up, I also put 50 Lbs of crushed oyster shells in filter box to help maintain levels. I also put 30 lbs of crushed coral in filter box to help with pH, not sure if 30lbs is enough to do anything to pH levels. With the baking soda additions came ammonia spikes so I started doing water changes, 10-15% a day for 4 days. Went from 3.0 to 0.50 but know I’m noticing that nitrate levels that were 0 are also going up.

Read more on Oyster shells. 

 Tap water test, pH/6.8 or a little lower, KH/40, GH/25.

Pond water test today, pH/7.2, KH/80-100, GH/75, Nitrite/0, Nitrate/20, and Ammonia/0.50

These are the only products I’ve ever used in my pond. Microbe lift/Xtreme for water conditioner and chloramines (tap water is treated with chloramines), ML/PL to help keep healthy pond and bio filter, ML/liquid barley (not with peat), and baking soda.

I just started using crushed oyster shells and by Carolyn’s suggestion and ML/Nite-out ll for ammonia and nitrite oxidation. The water temp on Friday was 48 but we are suppose to be in the upper to lower 20’s at night for the next 10 days (thank goodness days are much warmer) so I’m not sure how well ML/nite-out ll is going to work because it said to start using at 55. I also order Koizyme to help out with Aeromonas alley which I’m sure will be a problem in spring after having a pH crash and I’m sure the crash has killed my filters.

So my question is how do I fix it? This is what I THINK I know from all the brain overload research. Ammonia levels are not as toxic in cold water but I’m concerned about when the weather warms up and bio filter starting over (with big fish in pond). How do I keep ammonia levels down and nitrite and nitrate levels going up without water changes every day?

Is there a product you would recommend or will the ML/nite-out ll work? I also picked up a gal of kordon AmQuel plus at petsmart it’s an ammonia detoxifier, I haven’t used it yet because I’m not sure. I also read that salt will help, 1lb for 100 gals for me that’s 40 lbs. When should I put it in pond and for how long, is this the right amount and what kind of salt can I use. I’ve read that it can be salt for water softeners or rock salt (there is no where to get that much pond salt around here and price is very high for pond salt online). I’m also concerned about pH, KH and GH levels being low out of tap, how often can I use baking soda (adding 1/3 cup per 1000 gals). I also know that using baking soda raises the pH and higher pH leads to ammonia spikes. But I need the baking soda to raise the KH to keep the pH from falling to low. I just put in 50lbs of crushed oyster shells and I know they take a while to stabilize is 50lbs ok and how often should I replace them? GH is also low and from what I’ve read it works better a little higher for Koi, what should I use to raise it if anything.

I’m sure I forgot to ask something and I’m so sorry about the BOOK, but as they say “Knowledge is Power” and I could use a little of that power right know.

Thank you,

Deb Bibbins



“pH crashes happen when the natural nitrifying action of your filter bacteria uses up the carbonates dissolved in your water. As the buffering capacity of your pond decreases, the hydrogen ion (acid) liberated by the nitrifying process builds up, your pH drops (usually suddenly) and everything dies.

From that point, you have two necessary strategies:
1)   Short-term, you need to restore as much buffer as you can as quickly as you can. [Ed: Any changes to your water parameters should be done slowly to avoid osmotic shock or osmotic stress to your animals and bacteria 1.] You’ve already done this with the baking soda, and there’s no real limit on how much you can use. While it will increase your dissolved solids load, it also acts a little like salt, but we’ll talk about that later. Bicarb is not, by itself, a base. It’s a buffer. It will raise the pH in the pond by soaking up the free hydrogen, but it won’t push you so far into alkalinity so as to imperil your fish.

Remember that for ammonia, low pH is protective. It ionizes the ammonia, rendering it less toxic. You run into trouble as the pH rises and the deionized ammonia levels increase. Your short-term solutions to this are water changes (done) and products like Amquel. The problem with Amquel and its cousins (ChlorAm-X and ProAm-X) is that they are pricey (especially when bought in a pet store!) and they also interfere with standard (Nessler reagent) ammonia test kits. They do a great job of taking the ammonia out and even deal with chlorine and chloramine, but you’ll need a salicylate-method  ammonia test kit to follow your ammonia levels until you can clear the Amquel out over time with water changes. [Ed: If you read my blog you will see that products like Amquel only bind Ammonia ions and then gives you a false positive reading, then it will release that ammonia ion back into solution once again and your filter will have to deal with twice as much ammonia as before.]

To keep costs down, you can get ten-pound buckets of the powdered product as well as the LaMotte salicylate test kits from Aquatic Ecosystems (now Pentair Aquatics) in Apopka, FL. Your important measurements for the short term will be pH (7.2-7.5) , Ammonia (0) and alkalinity (KH- around 120 ppm). Forget GH, it has no value here.
You are correct in assuming that your filters are quite dead. 

You now have “new pond syndrome” all over again. You WILL HAVE a nitrite spike soon as your biofilters come back. Remember that the bacterial populations that do the ammonia-nitrite conversion show up a couple weeks before the nirtite-nitrate bugs. Nitrite is ferociously toxic, and your midrange goal is to control this. First, feed sparingly, if at all. Second, water changes are your friend. Third, salt helps. A lot. This is about the only ponding scenario where salt has any value. Concentrations of 1.88ppt (1.5 lbs per 100 gal) to 3.8 ppt salt will keep the nitrite from binding to the piscine hemoglobin in your fish’s blood and giving them the fishy equivalent of carbon monoxide poisoning in humans. As your bacterial populations restore themselves, you can wash the salt levels down with water changes. While you are ordering your ProAm-X, get a salt meter from Pentair, too. They cost around $40 and are a really good thing to have.

Salt is CHEAP! You just have to know what to buy. The “Solar Salt” in the 50 pound blue plastic bags at Home Despot or Menard’s is just fine. “Pond salt” from the pet store is a ripoff. My article on Salt (“Oh Noes-More Salts”) will be up on the MPKS website later on today.

You May want to read more about salt in my blog.

Most “bacterial boosters” are useless. Either they have very little in the way of active biofiltration bugs, or they have the wrong ones.

Read more about bacteria additives and the testing that was conducted on 11 different kinds, not what you think!

 My expert at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Alan LaPointe, says that the only additive worth using is a custom product that is sent fresh to big aquariums when they are preparing new aquatic habitats. The stuff he uses has a shelf life of about 2 days, but it works…

Long-term, your goal is to NEVER LET THIS HAPPEN AGAIN! Given your location, you have a year-round ponding season, and even though you consider 40 F to be the deep freeze, your pond and your fish keep right on churning out the [H+] and the ammonia. For you, there is no time in the year when you can relax your vigilance on your water quality. The coral and the oyster shell are very slow releasers of calcium salts and do not work well in small-scale environments (i.e.: backyard ponds). A much more efficient solution to Alkalinity maintenance (besides frequent, yearround water testing) is the “pond puck”. Go to your favorite craft store and get a big ol’ box of Plaster of Paris. Mix up a batch of it and pour some into a bunch of empty margarine tubs. If this is just too low-class for you, you can use fancy Jell-O molds or whatever. When they have solidified, hide a few in your falls, skimmer and anywhere else the water moves. They’ll dissolve over a week or two and maintain your alkalinity nicely. Cheap, too! Ponding and koi keeping is one of the most challenging and absorbing hobbies in the Universe. It forces you to learn new things on a constant basis and rewards you with summers of tranquility and “good ch’i” (for all you fung shui fanatics out there).

As a fellow prisoner of the Three Laws, I salute you!

Happier ponding!

Dr. Bob

1) Wikipedia: Osmotic shock or osmotic stress is a sudden change in the solute concentration around a cell, causing a rapid change in the movement of water across its cell membrane. Under conditions of high concentrations of either salts, substrates or any solute in the supernatant, water is drawn out of the cells through osmosis. This also inhibits the transport of substrates and cofactors into the cell thus “shocking” the cell. Alternatively, at low concentrations of solutes, water enters the cell in large amounts, causing it to swell and either burst or undergo apoptosis.[1]
All organisms have mechanisms to respond to osmotic shock, with sensors and signal transduction networks providing information to the cell about the osmolarity of its surroundings;[2] these signals activate responses to deal with extreme conditions.[3] Although single-celled organisms are more vulnerable to osmotic shock, since they are directly exposed to their environment, cells in large animals such as mammals still suffer these stresses under some conditions.[4] Current research also suggests that osmotic stress in cells and tissues may significantly contribute to many human diseases.[5]

No comments: