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 system water—what’s good, what’s bad, and how to make the bad good!
I guess everyone has that story where they realize when they figure something out. For me, figuring out water quality came from a previous job I had where we were trying to do some optics cleaning, but needed really clean water. One solution was to buy the water we needed. Another option was to buy a system, but for our needs that was going to cost over $50,000. Given our situation, the system was the only way to go, so I set off trying to compare options, features, and figure out the similarities and differences between each quote we got.
The strange thing that resulted from this? I started to figure out what was needed to make a system that would meet our needs…at essentially cost for the parts (since my labor to assemble it was now part of my job).
The result ended up being an ultra-high purity water system that could reach 17 mega-ohms and had a capacity of about 100 gallons per day. Not too bad for not knowing anything about the levels of water quality just months before!
Now, this level of pure water is way beyond the need for aquaponics, but I tell it to illustrate that if I can figure lab-grade level water out for optics cleaning, I hope I can help you figure out your needs for aquaponic water.
Ok, let’s just start this way. What is good water for aquaponics?
Asked another way, what measurements indicate good aquaponic system water?
Well, I know things vary from place to place, but if I had to make a list, I think I’d say something like this:
- A dissolved oxygen reading of about 5.0 ppm.
- A flow rate enough to cycle all the system water at least once every hour or so.
- A temperature of about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- A pH of about 7.0.
- An ammonia level less than 1ppm.
- A nitrite level less than 1 ppm.
- A nitrate level less than 50 ppm.
- And the water contact surfaces all food grade or non-leaching of chemicals or heavy metals.
That’s a laundry list, in a sense, but the list of bad stuff can go on for days!
What do I mean?
Well, how about this. US Water Systems (https://www.uswatersystems.com/) has several web pages to explain more about water issues; well beyond what I could cover here. But to get an idea, here’s part of the list they have:
- Acid Water-Low pH
- Bacteria, Cysts & Virus
- Chemicals, Toxins, PCB, MTBE, TCE, THM
- Iron and Manganese
- Radioactive Material
- Sediment, Sand, Silt & Turbidity
Wow! That’s a lot!
Granted, not all of that is the same level of “badness”, since sand and silt is much more benign than lead or radioactive materials, but the point is that all these issues are additive, meaning once you add up enough “tiny” parts of each, you have a real issue on your hands.
All that means, is that when you go to fill up your aquaponic system with water from a source that is high in any one of these bad issues, you’re most likely going to have issues.
For a reasonable example, say your water is perfect, except for the fact that it has chloramine in it. If you fill your system with that water without getting rid of the chloramine, your biofilter, your bacteria, will not live—the chloramine is in the water to kill things like the bacteria you need to make your aquaponic system thrive!
Similar things happen with each item in bad list. Hard water could drastically alter your pH such that you have nutrient lock-out, chemicals could simply kill things immediately, or after a few weeks, and not knowing what’s causing your issues can be an even bigger problem!
OK, enough Debbie-downer, what are some ways to make bad water good? Or take an unknown quality of water and make it good? Or to make sure your water is always good going into your system?
Well, thankfully, for people like US Water Systems, and many others, there are simple filters and treatments to economically process your water to make sure you only put good water into your system.
Aquaponics may be a bit of a new concept for most of the companies, but if you find a hydroponic water section you’re probably in the right place. Not only can you find filters and injectors to correct, remove, and improve your source water, but they will most likely offer a reverse osmosis system and a final “polish” type filter to make sure the end result you want is more than adequate.
But let’s take this one step further. If you’re like me and have small system, I mean around 100-gallon system or less, and your house water is a good quality drinking water, an under-the-sink multi-stage reverse osmosis system may be an economical way for you to provide make-up water to your system. No, it won’t produce a lot of water on demand, but if you can use a bucket, or the tank provided with most systems, you should have plenty of fresh, clean, pure water to make your fish, plants, and bacteria happy all day long!
After sharing that long list of water issues, it seems pretty strange that you can have one simple system of filters fix most of them. But that’s a good thing. And it’s a good thing to have a good quality water source, such as your city tap. It’s when you get into using well water, agricultural water, or open surface sources that you really have to pre-treat before you use any of it.
The best course of action? Test it! Yes, have your water tested, if you are not comfortable doing so yourself. That way, you know exactly what is in, or not in, your water! Then all you have to do is address those issues; thus, saving you time, money, and hassles worrying about other contaminants that may not even be in your water!
So, I hope you now have a better grasp on what it means to have good water, and how make sure you always have good water going into your system, no mater what kind of bad stuff may be out there.
Take care. 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 email@example.com 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.