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Makeup Water and Storage

by Justin Norman 

Introduction  One of the most common issues you will find in this marine hobby is issues of water quality. Some people seem to feel that the handling and attention to water chemistry in a saltwater aquarium is too daunting and overly complicated for anyone without a degree in Marine Biology, but this is just not true. The basics can be understood by anyone willing to put forth the time, energy, and effort to learn the methodology, and in this article I hope to outline these stated concepts, in an effort to make entry into this wonderful past time easier for the masses. Furthermore, an understanding of water chemistry, and how to handle it is paramount to success in this hobby.

Thoughts on Water Chemistry – When you're dealing with a captive aquarium, whether freshwater or saltwater, tropical or cold water, the chemical makeup of your water is always an issue. While its not necessary to know the exact measurements of every soluble element found in your water source, having a rough idea of what is in your water and at what concentrations is in general a Good Thing (tm). This information will generally be provided by your local water provisioning municipality upon request. The information on what they treat with, and add to, the water supply however is not always telling of the water coming out of your tap. You can take this analysis further, and have a private expert examine your water and give you a breakdown of its composition.

Even before beginning to mix saltwater with your source water, there are important things to test for at the source. You want to test for any traces of ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, or phosphates, as well as for pH. The most common way used by hobbyists to avoid pitfalls of source water, is a water purification system such as a reverse osmosis unit or a cation/anion deionization unit. If using such a system, it's advisable to test the level of total dissolved solids with a reliable TDS meter. The closer this number is to 0, the more pure your water. Water coming out of an RO unit should read between 5 and 30PPM, based on your source water, with water out of a cati/ani unit or a RO/DI unit should read 0. If you are purchasing your water from an external source, such as a local fish store or a purified water provider, it is still advisable to test for TDS content before using any such water.

When it comes to salt water itself, one should always remember the caustic nature of saltwater, especially the unnatural artificial salt mixes we use. While these mixes are really the best solution to a long-term conundrum of the hobby, when they are freshly mixed up, they are extremely caustic and can even harm your marine charges by their caustic nature. There is a simple way around this, and its by mixing your saltwater prior to use, and allowing it to stabilize and find equilibrium before adding it to your tanks. This is truly the underlying importance of creating a water holding system to fit your needs.

Water Holding Systems – One indispensable tool of the conscientious marine aquarist is a system of holding tanks for treating, preparing, and storing new water. This setup can be as simple or as automated as your desire, or budget, allows. You can have a simple setup consisting of a couple trash cans dedicated to the storage of fresh and salt water, equipped with air stones or powerheads to keep circulation going, or you can dive into the realm of float valves and large Rubbermaid tubs. The decision is largely up to your budget and your allotted space, but an important rule of thumb to adhere by is to be able to have at least 1 complete water change for all tanks under your care at hand at all times. This allows you to be prepared for the worst, as well as providing your aquatic charges with the best.

A helpful tip afforded to me recently by a friend is that when looking for containers for a water holding system, do look for local Culligan dealers in your area. Their water softener salt storage bins are readily available from them, are cheap if not free, and come with a supplied float valve.

The important issues when considering placement of your water holding systems are oxygen exchange and temperature. You will want to store your water at as close an approximation of the temperature in your tanks as possible. A degree higher or lower won't be of great detriment, but the higher the temperature of your water, the lower the levels of dissolved oxygen, and adding warmer water with too low of a dissolved oxygen content runs the risk of driving out existing oxygen in the aquariums existing solution. The solution to this problem is simply by using an appropriately sized aquarium heater to raise the temperature of your make up water while storing and circulating.

Letting your water circulate, aerate, and 'age' for a few days to weeks before use, it will allow the water to reach an equilibrium between dissolved oxygen content and carbon dioxide content, as well as giving newly mixed saltwater a chance to age and complete its internal reactions. Freshly mixed saltwater has far more caustic and corrosive properties than that of aged water, both to equipment and livestock. After mixing saltwater, it is also a good idea to test your new source water for biomineral content, such as pH, calcium and alkalinity, and adjust accordingly. Buffering your water beforehand will help allow for less maintenance in the display tank, and more stability for your aquatic charges.

When planning out your water holding system, it is equally as important to plan around your water source. Are you going to be purchasing water before mixing each time? Do you plan on investing in your own RO unit? Make sure that you have space allotted for such an addition, and proper water input and drainage in the area. If you ask around with advanced marine hobbyists, you will find that most would consider the investment of an RO unit to be quite possibly the central key to success. Owning your own RO device means you are always able to produce pure water when necessary, with no tedious trips or bucket lugging involved. The $150 you spend on a water purification system now will likely be saved in a year, based on current gas costs and per-gallon water costs alone.

Water Evaporation and Management: One thing I've often heard complained about in relation to owning a saltwater aquarium, is the endless tedium of freshwater top-off. So many people allow this top-off to go remiss, affecting the stability of their tank, and potentially adversely affecting their aquatic pets. Freshwater top-off is absolutely essential to the stability of a tank, for as water evaporates, the specific gravity begins to creep up. This is where automatic top off systems come into play.

Don't want to spend the money for a commercially available auto top-off solution? There are many do-it-yourself solutions to be found with a simple Google search.

There are several commercially available systems for automatic top-off, by such manufacturers as JBJ and Tunze. They all serve the same ends, to simplify your maintenance routine without sacrificing quality of life. These solutions can also be used to dose such supplements to the display as kalkwasser, or the alkalinity half of a two-part solution such as B-Ionic.

Conclusion: Maintaining a beautiful saltwater aquarium doesn't have to be rocket science. With attention to basic details, and an understanding of the factors involved with your water chemistry, a balance may be easier to strike than you think. A personalized system for preparation and storage of saltwater can simplify your maintenance routine and in turn makes your tank more enjoyable, and leaves more time to enjoy it. These few tips I've shared here are what I feel have been the key to mine and others success.

Marine Water Make-up, Storage on WWM

Treating Tapwater for Marine Aquarium Use by Bob Fenner & FAQs, FAQs 2

   Water Changes and Gravel Vacuuming by Bob Fenner, The “Perfect” Water Change Regimen? by Scott Fellman, Water Changes, Exchanges by Anthony Calfo, & FAQs, FAQs 2FAQs 3Water Changes 4, Rationale, Gear, Frequency/Amount, Techniques,  Trouble/shooting,

         FAQs on Make-up Water: Makeup water and storage; Rationale/Use, Gear, Frequency/Amount, Techniques, Water Quality/Adjusting, Trouble/shooting,

         Make Up/Top-Off Water Systems & FAQs,


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