Water Conditions

During the past several years we have been transferred from city to city with my job. What does that have to do with fish keeping you might ask? Well, has anyone ever considered that each city has different water conditions? Then there is the problem of do I take my fish or don’t I take my fish.

If you have ever tried to move your fish tank from one location to another in your house, you may have an understanding of what it would be like to move several tanks. Moving a fish room even just across the street is no easy task. Moving a tank or tanks to a location several hours away (and maybe even days away) can boggle the mind.

If you have decided to move your fish room or tank to the new location perhaps it would be wise to check the weather forecast before you leave. One move we made went from temperatures of 15C to -40C. With this move we decided tropical fish would not appreciate the cooler temperatures during transport. Even though it may be difficult to part with fish you have had under your care for a while, it may be in the fishes’ best interest if you can find them a new home.

When you move, your first thoughts are not usually what kind of water is in your new home. For your fish, however, that is the only thing that matters to them. If the water conditions change drastically from what they are accustomed, they will die or may lead a miserable life. On the other hand, if the water conditions have not been correct for the type of fish you are keeping, the fish may appreciate the change.

In moving even from one place in town to another you may find you have a different water source. So, it is always wise to check with the city and never assume that just because you are moving a few blocks away you will have the same water.

The locations that follow describe some of the discoveries that we have made.


When we first became interested in fish keeping we were in a location where the water was very hard. Water conditioners (which increased the salt level) were used to soften the water. When the water was used for cooking, a scum formed on the top of the water so distilled water had to be used. Although we did not know the exact water conditions at the time, we felt it would be better to wait for a relocation before we tried keeping fish. Rift lake cichlids may have done fine in this water, but they were not available to us at that time.


Our next move brought us to an area where the water came straight off the glaciers. Conditioners and chlorine were not used. This water was pure. So pure there were water bottling plants using city water straight from the tap. Now this sounded like a place to start fish keeping. So we did! Fish keeping was relatively easy and inexpensive here, and this is where our fish room began. There were no additives needed for the water of the aquaria when doing water changes. Fish bred unexpectedly with no prompting on our part. For example, the corys bred and fry were swimming around in the tank at a fairly large size, before we even knew anything had been going on. Water was not metered here so we could do water changes (and we did) every day if we wanted, as much as 90% at no extra cost to us. The fish we had had wonderful color, and they glowed. The water was "soft" so raising fish like angels was not that difficult. Then we moved…


This move was in the same town but in a different area. We thought that this would be an easy move because it was in the same town. Therefore our fish came with us. The water still came straight off a glacier and was still labeled as "pure" but it was from a different source. This water was still good for the fish we were keeping at the time. Still no water conditioners were added, but the pH and hardness were slightly higher.


When we moved to this location we decided to take our fish with us. Fortunately for us water conditions were not that different. However, chlorine was added to this water. Therefore, we had to add a chlorine remover. We discovered after the first three months, that the water was metered and you paid for what you used! News to us! Now fish keeping became more of an art. Water changes became fewer because of the large expense involved. Water changes were now done on a weekly basis and smaller amounts were changed. This location was also where we had our largest fish room. It was still quite easy to breed soft water fish in this water because we were still able to breed discus and tetras.

Friends that lived only 20 minutes away had chloramines in their water, which made their fish keeping quite a bit more difficult than ours. This is where we started to collect information on how to treat chloramines in the water. We always listened to the problems of other fish keepers and their solutions in case we ended up in a location with similar problems.


We did not bring our fish with us. Instead we brought just a few empty tanks. Once settled we began to look around the area to see what tropical fish were being kept and bred. As with the previous location the water was also metered. We also found out that this water had chloramines in it. We had to learn about the different water conditioners to deal with chloramines. The information that we had gathered in our previous location helped us.

We discovered that the water here was softer than any other location that we had been to yet. The water was so soft in fact that the pH was unstable. It would go in the tank from the tap at pH 7.0 and drop a short time later to pH 6.0 or lower. This can be hazardous to your fishes’ health. They had a bottle of Mr. Fix Everything in the pet store but we chose to do more frequent water changes. In talking to a fellow aquarist, it was suggested to place a small amount of coral gravel in a box filter to stabilize the pH. These two solutions seemed to stop the fluctuations in the pH. Other species of fish could now be kept and bred without altering the water. Unfortunately after making all these new discoveries we were not there long enough to breed too many fish.


We once again did not bring our fish with us. Temperatures at the time of year we moved made it impossible. The water is not metered here but conditioners are still needed, as there is chlorine in this water. It was just as well we did not bring our fish, because we soon discovered that the water at this location is "hard". A rift lake cichlid’s paradise. We have never really kept any cichlids before, having done all our actual fish keeping in softer water areas. The main problem in this area is finding the fish. We have found that we actually have to get the fish shipped in to us from other locations.

Of course now, we have also decided to face the challenge of breeding some softer water fish in this area. So far all that we have done is purchase R/O water. Adding differing amounts to our regular tap water gives the differing softness degrees that we need, depending on what we are attempting to breed. The key point here is to remember the exact amount added, as we don’t want our fish to go into shock by dumping in a completely different water chemistry.

In each new location we called the city to find out about the water conditions. This included pH, hardness, where the water came from (well or reservoir), and what they were treating the water with. We were told in a few locations that they had more than one place where the water came from, and they switched over periodically. This can cause differing water conditions without the public knowing throughout the year. A good practice for fish keepers is testing the water occasionally themselves. This will keep them on top of the situation.

Of course, if you are living in an area where the water conditions don’t suit the fish you want to keep, there are always ways of changing it. To acidify and soften the water you can add Canadian peat. You can also "dilute" your home water with distilled or reverse osmosis water. To harden water you can add things like coral gravel or oyster shell. Or you can add Mr. Fix Everything from the pet stores to harden or soften the water. (We have never personally tried Mr. Fix Everything but it sure sounds wonderful.) But it is always easier to work with what you have and find fish that are suitable to the water conditions of where you are living. There is less difficulty in the long run and it is more economically sound. There is the added benefit of education as well, as you will be forced to research different types of fish and their required conditions.

Although we have had to give up fish that we really did not want to in some of our moves, we have an understanding of what different water conditions mean to different species of fish. From the very soft water tetras to the very hard water cichlids, and a few in between. We have seen the glowing colors that are possible from providing the proper conditions, and the interesting breeding behaviors that take place. We have seen egg scatterers scatter their eggs, other egg layers clean and choose a site to lay their eggs, bubble nest builders build their nest and care for the eggs, mouthbrooders brood, and livebearers bear live young.

In short, we have seen many different species of fish mature and breed under our care and we have not done anything to change our water hardness and pH (other than stabilizing the pH in one location) until now. All we had to do was provide the water. Although, once you get use to having a sore back from packing R/O water, it’s not so bad either. At least it does provide the opportunity to attempt breeding a few other fish you normally wouldn’t be able to.?