You’re listening to Fish Grow Plants—A podcast all about practicing and sharing the love of aquaponics; hosted by Logan Schoolcraft.
Hello, and welcome to Fish Grow Plants! In today’s episode we’re talking about water loss in your aquaponic system.
I have a story about water loss.
I believe it was Monday after I had done just a few small things to my system over the weekend. As far as I knew, everything was running smoothly and I had no issues…that is until I heard my aquaponic system before I saw it….
Yeah, you know you have a problem when the water splashing noise has gotten loud because a change in water level.
At first glance, it looked like my grow bed had simply been drained of 90% of its water!
In fact, that’s pretty much what had happened. The trail of water out the basement door was my second clue as I got closer.
With such a drastic change in water level, I immediately started looking for the smoking gun that caused the loss. But I couldn’t find anything! A real mystery!
At this point I was torn between figuring out the water loss and getting more water back in the system. So, I went ahead and started the refilling process and went back to troubleshoot the leak.
Much to my surprise, the grow bed was watertight—not even a drop where it shouldn’t be. And the pump and hose leaving the grow bed was the same!
Hmmm…the plot thickens, I thought.
As I traced the water path to the fish tank, I noticed that’s where the water on the floor seemed to start, but the fish tank was full…If it had a leak, then the water level would be down to that point. Hmm… more mysteries.
As I inspected closer, I noticed water dripping off the cover of the fish tank and thought, “no way—gallons of water could not have just dripped out of my system all night!”
But apparently so!
This unsolved mystery was best explained by a combination of aeration and condensation happening on a lid just inches away from the surface of the water in the fish tank. And, add to the fact that the lid was tilted, so once the water began dripping, it just kept on going!
It is fall, so maybe the temperature swing was just cool enough that night that it caused the condensation to get started and the aeration just accelerated the problem.
Who knows? At this point, I’m just grateful that it hasn’t continued!
I’ve also modified the lid so it doesn’t overhang the fish tank and have made sure I can see all the lines to and from the area in question. For now it works, but I’m keeping a close eye on it!
Alright! That was a long-winded story about a strange water loss situation, but I hope it illustrates the point that you can lose water in a really strange way!
But, if you’re just getting started, what are some of the more common ways you might expect to lose water?
Well, my first guess, assuming your system is outside and it’s summertime, is evaporation. Yep, good old evaporation is most likely getting most of your water. The trick here would be to pay attention to how much exposed water you have vs how many plants you have. If you have a lot of greenery, you’re going to have a fair bit of evaporation. The trick is knowing you are not letting water escape simply because you have not covered it up (think about the surface of your fish tank).
This might be the most common water loss area, but it’s probably the hardest to quantify as well.
My second guess for water loss, assuming nothing else, is that your plumbing connections have a bit of drip, seep, or have just failed. It’s not rare, and if left unattended, it may seal itself off due to the large amount of gunk in the system (as compared to your potable water line). Just having a routine check of sliding your hand under all fittings and connections daily will help ensure this problem doesn’t get out of hand.
A third guess of mine would be your hardware. That is your pipe, grow beds, fish tanks, etc. Since these things vary so widely, I’d venture a guess that one of them may have issues. Specifically, where it connects to your piping, pump, or other connection. This can be tough if your fish tank came with a bottom drain fitting that will not get tight. My advice here is to double or triple up before filling up. What do I mean? Well, make sure you can seal that drain in at least two ways, and then do at least three checks to make sure it’s good—that is don’t fill the tank all the way up. Fill it partially up, let it set, and see what happens around your drain.
Well, I could probably go on and on trying to guess what could cause water losses in each unique system out there, but I think you get the picture.
But as always, I don’t want to leave you hanging on stories alone.
If you really want to keep track of your water inputs and loss, a meter is the obvious way to go, but that’s a pretty steep expense when starting out. Instead, I’d offer the low-cost version. Just keep track of how much water you are adding on a regular basis—and have a mark somewhere in your system that lets you know when you’re “full”. For me, I know when that foam piece in the corner is slightly over the top of the grow bed, my system is topped off. It’s not perfect, but it’s a quick visual I can use to make sure my water level is close to where it should be.
One more option I’ve used is to not rush the build. If you can get your system put together and let it sit for a day or two, and then let it run without fish or plants, it will give you the chance to make sure you have all your hardware functioning as it should. And, if the case arises that you need to do a big draining of water to fix something, you’ll be glad there are no fish or plants to worry about.
It’s a lot of up-front work, but I appreciate the peace of mind it gives because I know I can trust the hardware (at least as I’m getting started).
I hope this helps you keep in mind the importance of reducing water loss to a minimum in your system—and that it can happen in a variety of ways.
Take care and happy aquaponicing!
Questions! Let me have them! Do you need clarification, more information, or maybe you just have a tangent thought—send all your thoughts my way. See the website fishgrowplants.com for episode details, or just fire off an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get back to you.
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This has been another episode of Fish Grow Plants—the podcast all about practicing and sharing the love of aquaponics; hosted by Logan Schoolcraft.