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Thread: Testing water for harmful bacteria levels

  1. #1
    Fry
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    Testing water for harmful bacteria levels

    Hello, we are interested in testing our water for Aeromonas and Pseudomonas levels prior to upgrading our filtration in order to: (1) get a baseline for later comparison (2) investigate why we have higher than expected health problems (including death) with our 35 Koi

    We also are interested in doing any other in-depth biological or chemical tests that may help us understand what's going on. We already do all expected tests from typical freshwater test kits and we already know our NH3 is not zero, but not alarmingly high. Everything else is pretty stable and in expected ranges.

    Thanks!

    Greg

  2. #2
    Meg
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    Oyagoi Meg's Avatar
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    sorry you are having troubles, loosing fish can be tough, and frustrating when trying to pin down the problem.
    being you are planning to up grade the filtration because of problems, you already know that most likely you have water quality issues.
    you have given a vey vague picture of your pond,
    what are the water test result numbers. and all of them are needed for a full picture of your water. 'within reason' is useless information.
    have you scraped and scoped the fish?
    what are the observed behaviors of the ill fish.
    any new addition to the pop.?
    what is the size of your 35 koi?
    pond size and filration and matainance?
    how old is the pond?
    I am sure there are others questions folks here will be asking but this is a start before testing water for Aeromonas and Pseudomonas levels or other in-depth biological or chemical tests.

  3. #3
    Sansai cencalkoi's Avatar
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    Meg pretty much covered the general questions needed to answer before any recommendations can be made such as pond size, filter size, what kind of filter and what is going on with koi, you say their health, but what issues, i.e. ulcers, split fins. Are you maintaining proper water conditions and doing regular water changes to keep parameters in check. Why are you wanting to change the filtration? Is it because you are overstocked, overstocking a pond can cause damage and overload the filter. So removing some of the unwanted koi could help.

  4. #4
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    There are procedures for doing bacterial counts. The measurement is in CFUs... colony forming units. Do an internet search for bacteria counting methods and you will get a lot of info. It is not as simple as a test kit. But, I do not know any koi hobbyist who has ever done one. There is no need if filtration, stocking and maintenance procedures are appropriate.

    We have had a lot of threads lately begun by new hobbyists having health issues. All have a common issue: A lack of the basics for koikeeping. A pond under 1,000 gallons in size is not suitable for keeping koi for an extended time. Filtration has to be sufficient to turnover the full pond volume at least once every 2 hours, and preferably once every hour, AND keep ammonia and nitrite at undetectable levels. Although small fish may be stocked at a rate of one per 100 gallons, they quickly grow. Any stocking rate greater than one koi per 250 gallons will result in problems. More room is better! The pond should not have any areas where waste and debris gathers. So, no rocks, use bottom drains for the filtration system, and no plants. High oxygen levels are essential for healthy water, so use aeration, a waterfall, a shower filter or the like to maximize dissolved oxygen. Water continually deteriorates, so refresh with water changes. I consider 20-25% per week as minimal.

    Address all of these points and the detrimental bacteria are not a concern.

  5. #5
    Oyagoi RayJordan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GregM View Post
    Hello, we are interested in testing our water for Aeromonas and Pseudomonas levels prior to upgrading our filtration in order to: (1) get a baseline for later comparison (2) investigate why we have higher than expected health problems (including death) with our 35 Koi

    We also are interested in doing any other in-depth biological or chemical tests that may help us understand what's going on. We already do all expected tests from typical freshwater test kits and we already know our NH3 is not zero, but not alarmingly high. Everything else is pretty stable and in expected ranges.

    Thanks!

    Greg
    You can send a sample of your pond water to any commercial water testing laboratory that does microbiological cultures for a quanitative test of the number of bacteria per ml. However the value of the results will be highly varable. For testing drinking water the basic microbiological bacteria testing is to determine how much bacteria exist per ml of water. For your stated purpose you are seeking to know the population levels of bacteria that are in the class of gram negative rod bacteria. Even this qualitative testing is of limited usefulness as many of these types of bacteria exist everywhere in aquatic enviroments and in normal garden soil.

    Every living body of water has a wide variety of organisms present including bacteria. The quality and also the population variety of bacteria can vary widely in samples from fish ponds depending on the source of the sample. For example the amount/type of bacteria would likely be quite different if taken from different areas such as the surface of the pond, the bottom of the pond, the sediment in a filter, or a scraping from the slime coat of a fish.

    You are likely aware that koi like other fish with a healthy immune system are quite capable of defending itself against the normal bacteria found in water enviorments. However a koi's immune system can be worn down and defeated over time by keeping them in poor water quality conditions including the effects of high organic waste. These same high organic waste conditions also stimulate the growth and population levels of pathogenic bacteria. In many ways the ability of koi/carp to survive for a fairly long period of time in poor conditions works against it to a certain degree. When koi finally do break down and develop ulcers it is often the result of a series of events that have occurred over many weeks or even months.

    In summary for any new kio keepers reading this. The long term keys to keeping koi healthy and thriving over a long period of time depends greatly on the ability to effectively manage the level of organics in your pond system. So a combination of low stocking levels, high pond volume to koi weight ratio, high levels of dissolved oxygen, feeding sparingly according to water temperture and seasons, adaquate water changes, constant effective elimination of solid wastes, robust bio-filtration, high water circulation and turnover rates to keep the overall organic and inorganic wastes at a low level are the proven methods to sucessfully keeping healthly thriving koi
    Disclosure:These opinions are based on my experience and conversations with persons I consider accomplished koi keepers and do not reflect the viewpoint of any organization.

  6. #6
    Fry
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    Thank you all for your replies regarding my question about where to get our water tested for harmful bacteria etc. I completely agree that this is a very unconventional step considering we already know our filtration needs updating due to ammonia levels being often between 0.05 - 0.15. I am working on a small team and doing my best to research options based on the teams' decision to do so - while I can see it's not a typical next step, I can understand their interest in measuring the impact of our new filtration

    With that said, as Meg suggested, here's more detailed info about our pond. Again, my hope is to find a lab with fish expertise who can help us analyze our water (even though I also know our filtration needs updating and that doing so will likely improve our situation a great deal). Of course, any other suggestions are also welcome

    We have 8,000 gallons in 4 connected man-made ponds with little debris, straight walls, 2 waterfalls, a small running stream and 3 bubblers. Unfortunately, we currently are running 3 sand filters; but are happy to be changing them to bio-filters (replacing sand with Kaldness one at a time and may only due two total). I am pretty familiar with the downsides to sand and am happy we're making the change. Our pond is about 15-20 years old with 33 koi, avg. length is 18"-22" and of the 33, 5 are small (about 8" average). We are not overstocked. We have 2 powerful pumps (older, suck up a lot of energy) and just purchased UV lights. Our major problem is ammonia and the bio-media will likely take care of it well. We have scraped and scoped only 2 fish and found none or almost no parasites (none that were moving even though we looked immediately upon scraping). I'm new with the scope, so I can say for sure; but am confident there isn't a major parasitic problem.

    Our current health issues are ulcers - we've had 3 of our older fish have them recently and are treating them even though current salt levels help me feel confident osmoregulation wont be a problem. We haven't observed any flashing or other behavior problems in any of the fish. The main problem is ongoing periodic fish death - usually 1 - 3 per year.


    pH - 8.2 - 8.3
    Ammonia - flucuates between about 0.05 and 0.20, we currently use API drops and a Hanna digital tester (2 decimal places).
    Nitrite - zero
    Nitrate - very low (I don't have numbers handy, but obviously this is not a huge concern)
    Dissolved Oxygen - I don't have numbers handy, but have been told it is very good (I think it is around 12%-15%). We have multiple waterfalls and bubblers, this likely is not our problem
    KH - about 160
    GH - about 300
    Total Chlorine - zero (we use two Culligan carbon filters in series, they seem to do the trick)
    Salinity - currently at 0.16 (coming down from salting the ponds a while back)

    Please let me know if you know where I can get the type of thorough water testing I'm referring to. Also, I will look at bacterial counting methods online. I spoke to a very nice and knowledgable gentleman who owns the Koi Care Kennel and he recommended I contact the Vet School at UC Davis or in Georgia - I am trying both routes but haven't succeeded yet. I definitely want to work with people who know fish and fish ponds, not just with a microbiologist or bacteriaologist (spelling?) who don't know and love Koi. Thanks so much! Please let me know if this added info is helpful. Greg

  7. #7
    Oyagoi
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    to be showing ammonia and then having zero to low on nitraite and nitritae just does seem right at all.

    now 8,000 gallons is it true gallons or just a guess using LxWxD thing.

    33 koi with sand filters i feel you just nailed your problem head on.
    WAY to many fish for filtration.
    even a conversion of filters to k1 still might not be good enough esp depending on your feeding rate.and also size of the sand filter

    ulcers and deaths come right back to your ammonia test.

    beef up filtration,lower stocking # and you will wonder why you spent any money on doing the other test you are thinking of.
    Paul Korf

    member of:
    Midwest Pond and Koi Society
    Louisville Koi club
    IKONA

  8. #8
    Meg
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    you are looking for a big bad evil elusive Aeromona or Pseudomona and all you need to do is correct some simple things. stocking levels(yes, you are over stocked) filtration up grading and water changes.
    spend the money for those tests on a nice big shower for the pond instead, and have a beauty contest for the koi and re home some.

    look over Ray's post again and give it some pondering time

  9. #9
    Tategoi
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    We have scraped and scoped only 2 fish and found none or almost no parasites (none that were moving even though we looked immediately upon scraping). I'm new with the scope, so I can say for sure; but am confident there isn't a major parasitic problem.
    Greg it doesn't take a major out break to have problems. If you're water quality is poor; I and everyone else seems to think so; this will lower the fish's immune system and this will allow even a low level bug problem to be a bigger problem.

    Ulcers just don't show up it takes a break in the cutcile/slime coat of the fish to allow the bacteria to invade and we always have bacteria in our ponds. So if their immune system is down somewhat so that a parasite can break in, that leaves an opening for the pathogentic bacteria to become a problem....they can't fight either off.

    Fix you filtration, up your water changes and lower the school, scrape and scope a few more and this'll very likely fix the ulcers problem

  10. #10
    Sansai
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    Quote Originally Posted by GregM View Post
    T
    Ammonia - flucuates between about 0.05 and 0.20, we currently use API drops and a Hanna digital tester (2 decimal places).
    I don't understand these units. Do you mean 0.05%? That would be 500ppm - quickly lethal. Or do you mean 0.05ppm - which would be 50ppb - generally below drop kit detectability?

    I think you mean 5.0 to 20.0ppm. This is still unacceptably high - especially over the long term.

    You should cut your feeding back to amounts that your existing filters can handle. Once you know this weight (i.e. the MOST food you can feed while still testing <5.0 ppm ammonia), you can upgrade your filters and eventually feed more. The difference in the two average daily feeding masses will tell you how effective the filtration upgrade was. As sloppy as these numbers are, they're actually going to be more accurate than measuring circulating bacterial counts. The correlation between filter "effectiveness" and bacterial levels is not going to be particularly tight, and will likely suffer sample bias.

    That said, most diagnostic pathology labs should be able to do counts for you. You just need to get them the water. They'll probably prep slides for an upcharge. Don't expect anything back except the numbers, however.

    -t

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