The Water Title:  The Water


WATER quality is the most important measure of the health of a pond system. Learning to understand the dynamics involved in a healthy ecosystem is the difference between having a fountain and a living pond. Water is the medium in which each element interacts to create the pond ecosystem. It affects and sustains all life in your pond. Thus, success depends upon the quality of the water. Under ideal conditions the water looks clean and clear, but if out of balance the water turns cloudy and can smell bad. It is an intricately delicate balance in which element, fish, plants, bacteria and earth, each have an important and specific role to play.

Takaharu Friedman First, for a healthy pond ecosystem, the water cannot contain chemicals that are harmful. Tap water contains many chemicals and minerals, most are added to make water clean and safe for humans. The same chemicals that make our water safe can make it deadly for fish and beneficial bacteria. After all, chlorine (and its derivatives) is added to kill harmful bacteria. So, to understand how to treat your pond water correctly, you first must understand your local water supply. Ask your water company for a chemical analysis so that you will know what chemicals are added to your local supply. (I found this to be interesting exercise as I drink a lot of water!) For example, here is a link to my local water company: Marin Municipal Water District.

Chlorine is one chemical that is used to treat drinking water. Chlorine can removed by filtration or letting the water stand in a bucket or barrel for a few days, allowing the chlorine to evaporate. However, studies have shown that as the chlorine disinfects water, it can produce trihalomethanes which are suspected carcinogens (that can be breathed in as you take a shower). As a result, many water districts are replacing chlorine with chloramine to disinfect their water supply. Unlike chlorine which will evaporate from the water if left uncovered, chloramine (a combination of chlorine and ammonia) is persistent and difficult to remove. The only way to effectively filter out chloramine is by distillation or reverse osmosis, both of which are expensive and energy-consuming methods. The alternative -- and most common -- treatment for a small pond system is the addition of a chemical water conditioner such as AmQuel, that breaks the bond between chlorine and ammonia, then rendering them harmless to fish. Amquel, and products like it, also has the added benefit of dealing with excess ammonia in the water. There are other water treatments available for other possible chemicals.

"It's Alive!"

The Nitrogen Cycle The Living Elements: Fish, Plants, and Bacteria each live within the water, each depending on the other, this is called the nitrogen cycle.

In order to start up the pond ecosystem bacteria must be introduced into the water. A bacteria culture aids in purifying the water, breaking down decaying plant material and ammonia, which is a byproduct of fish waste. Products such as Clear Pond and Aqua 5 can be purchased and added to your water. This should be done in the first stages of establishing your pond to assure you have a stable colony (at least 4-6 weeks) before you plop your fish in. It wise to only add a few fish at a time, and let the pond chemistry adjust.

If algae is present in the water it will turn a cloudy green. This does not mean that the water is not safe for the fish and plants, or that the pond ecosystem is out of balance. It is important to note that while clear water is the ultimate objective, this is mainly an esthetic choice.

As the water falls and runs over the rocks, it creates a gentle soothing sound...

The Sun, and Water Temperature

The water temperature in your pond is a major key in attaining balance. The water must be at a temperature warm enough for the beneficial bacteria to survive. The bacteria are necessary because they break down fish waste and ammonia which is toxic to the fish. If the temperature is too cold (below 50 degrees), it impacts the survival of the bacteria.

We found that by shading our pond during the summer months and having a good deal of the water surface covered, we were able to keep the temperature down (70-75 degrees), keeping the algae growth in check and reducing evaporation. Elevating the barrel above the ground on bricks, letting air flow underneath, also made a big difference.

During the winter, the water temperature dropped down to 45 degrees. The fish went into a state of motionless hibernation and appeared to be suspended in the middle of the barrel. To keep the temperature up, we purchased a 300 watt heater for about $20 at a pet store. We were able to maintain a water temperature of 60 degrees -- warm enough for the bacteria to survive -- and as an added benefit, the fish were much more active.

Rock filter under waterfall

Testing the water yourself on a regular basis is a good idea. Over time, as you regularly test your water, you will learn the ins and outs of maintaining good water quality. Early warning signs will give you time to make adjustments to keep the water and your fish healthy. I learned this the hard way, the water in the barrels looked great, crystal clear and the plants were thriving. But, looks can be deceiving, and the levels of ammonia rose and the fish began to die. To keep in balance, test.

Here is a link to a new section that we a working on. Fish in a Barrel: Pumps and Filters It contains information that was include under the Water Section, but has grown so large that it needs a section of its own.

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