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Thread: Musings About Ideal Koi Water

  1. #1
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Musings About Ideal Koi Water

    The topic of water quality is 'ancient' at this point in the progress of koikeeping. And, it gets so repetitive as to be a bore. Nonetheless, my attention was caught by a number of recent postings in various Facebook groups and on other boards concerning water quality. Nothing very controversial was suggested in any of them, but there were a number of inconsistencies in the recommended goals put forward, particularly in regard to KH, GH and pH parameters. Carp are so highly adaptable, it should not be surprising that there is great variability in what is recommended. Still, we have reached a rather advanced stage in the hobby and it seems some higher degree of uniformity should exist in what is recommended as 'ideal', what is considered 'good' and what is 'acceptable'. So, I have been reviewing piles of articles and postings on the subject, but to no real end. Koikeepers have such different goals and standards, little commonality is possible. For many, 'ideal' water simply means no detectable ammonia or nitrite, no copper (or other heavy metals), KH so high there is never risk of a pH crash, and with GH & pH in survivable ranges. For others, this is merely 'acceptable'.

    One of the postings I most appreciated was by RickF on KP. It emphasized that for most koikeepers, water quality goals are directly related to maintenance and localized conditions: " What you say regarding KH and pH might be correct in Los Angeles, but you cannot generalize those observations elsewhere. … Any buffer (a buffer is a mix of a weak acid and its salt) will raise the KH, but the resulting pH depends on what the weak acid is. If, for example, you live in the costal North Carolina area, where the water naturally has a high phosphate content, the pH will be about 7.2 regardless of whether the KH is 2 °dH or 20 °dH. On the other hand, if you live in Central Kentucky where the water comes from limestone springs and therefore has a high bicarbonate and calcium content, the pH will be about 8.3 (once the excess CO2 has been off-gassed) regardless of whether the KH is 2 °dH or 20 °dH. KH tells you how difficult it is to change the pH, but KH does not tell you what the pH is.

    The … recommendation that the KH be kept close to 1 °dH might work in the desert of the Southwest or it might work if you are measuring KH every hour, but in the Midwest and Southeast, where it is not uncommon to get several inches of rain in under an hour, keeping the KH that low is a recipe for disaster. …[A]nd the rain east of the Rockies has a very low pH compared to the rain on the West Coast…. Also, in a few week the loblolly pine pollen will be out in force (and until you have experienced the mess made by loblolly pines you cannot comprehend the amount of pollen that falls) and the catkins from the maple, oak, birch, and beech trees, and the male cones of the pine trees … will start dropping from the trees *** All of this additional organic debris will cause the KH to drop, even if I clean my filters daily. If the KH is not high enough, the pH will crash, and 2 °dH is not high enough. I start to worry when the KH is below 7 °dH , and when a tropical storm is approaching, I will go as high as 300 ppm, because one does not want to measure KH or pH or add baking soda to the pond [during the storm]. The local environment must be taken into consideration when making (or following) recommendations to keep the KH between 1 and 2 °dH. "

    So, is it useless to make recommendations? ...That's another post.

  2. #2
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Of course it is not useless to give recommendations. It is important that we teach one another. When giving advice, however, it is best to gear a recommendation to the experience and goals of the person being advised.

    My usual recommendation is for people to work at keeping their pond at the same parameters as their source water, assuming the source water is in acceptable ranges. I do this because water degrades as soon as it is placed in the pond. So, the best quality readily achievable is the source water. This standard can be achieved through water changes. The size and frequency of water changes can be determined by testing frequently at first to see how quickly degradation occurs. After a year of seasonal variations, a person can adopt a regular schedule of water changes that works for them. It is not easily accomplished by everyone, however. As RickF points out, local conditions vary. Something more than dechlorination may be required in order to avoid an unsustainable level of maintenance work.

    For 'ideal' water, I immediately think about an Arizona hobbyist who was posting in the late 1990s about his 're-building' of water for his koi. He first used RO to create sterile water, and then added back mineral content to create what he considered ideal water. I do not know of anyone going to such lengths today, but there are certainly those who follow a similar path of 're-creating' their source water by using water softeners, RO, etc.

    But, if we were not impacted by local conditions (or were willing to do whatever it took for maintenance), what would be 'ideal'?

    ...and that is still another post.

  3. #3
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    I have searched high and low and can come up with nothing more informative than Mike Snaden's writings. The following is from an article he authored in 2002….. and 14 years later it still stands strong:

    "It's all too common to hear some hobbyists say, Mains water in certain areas is too soft, and should be hardened. It's understandable that Carbonate Hardness (KH) should be elevated, but the same cannot be said for General Hardness. …[I]ndicators from Japan suggest that soft water should be nurtured and taken advantage of, not necessarily hardened! It is generally accepted in Japan by the koi industry/breeders, that koi growth is enhanced in soft water. Hi will become thicker, the shine of the skin (Tsuya) will improve, and last but not least, the health of the koi will be stimulated and greatly enhanced, hence less problems. But in a general sense the koi hobby tends to believe that Koi are put into Japanese mud ponds because of the high mineral content and low stocking levels will make the Koi potentially grow larger at a faster rate than would otherwise be the case. *** The fact is many of Niigata's mud ponds have soil that is so dead from lack of minerals, that only rice (or Koi) can be grown there. However, mud ponds do offer benefits such as live insects, and plankton. *** Carbonate hardness is essential for the buffering effect it has on the pH of water in a closed circuit koi pond. *** If a pond has a low KH, and regular pond maintenance isn't carried out, the water will lose it's buffering capability, and
    the pH will fall. At first this isn't a problem, as Koi are best suited to a pH of 7.0. But, if left unattended, the pH will fall to dangerous levels, and quickly crash the system. *** A good KH level should be somewhere in the region of 2 to 6dH. There is no point in running a higher level than 6, as this will often result in a rise of the pH. The Japanese consider a pH of between 6.8 and 7.4 to be ideal.

    ***General Hardness… is a measure of the amount of dissolved solids (mineral content), E.G. calcium, iron, aluminium, manganese, magnesium, chlorides, etc. GH has nothing directly to do with the KH buffering effects of water, also a GH measurement is no indication of the KH value as the two are totally separate independent readings. *** For Japanese Nishikigoi professionals, the ultimate goal is to achieve low GH values.

    ***Water in a typical Japanese Mud pond, is generally between 35 and 85 ppm TDS. The stocking rates employed with most mud ponds are kept low so that the daily feeding doesn't raise the water hardness. It is thought by many, the main reason koi kept in Japanese mud ponds grow very quickly. Concrete Koi ponds in Japan are often overstocked, and the water is more likely to be in the region of 150 ppm TDS. This is the one of the main reasons many Japanese hobbyists put their best Koi back into mud ponds each year, they can then grow in soft water, as opposed to having their growth stunted with the harder water of a conventional Koi pond …. TDS. Total Dissolved Solids…basically represents a combination of KH, GH, and any other dissolved solids.

    The readings below have been taken using a Japanese TDS meter. This meter is sold in Japan as a 'Water quality instrument'. From the TDS reading given below, we can obviously assume that a TDS reading of lets say 80ppm, that the KH might be for arguments sake 2dH (36ppm), and hence the GH can therefore be a maximum of 2.45dH (44ppm)….

    Japan, Mains water 75ppm,
    Rainwater 3ppm,
    Pond water (mud ponds) 35 to 108ppm (TDS)
    Pond water (hobbyists ponds) 108 to 220ppm (TDS)
    ***
    JAPAN
    Typical Japanese case studies are as follows; these figures are for various major Japanese
    breeders mud ponds in the Hiroshima area. All of the readings are TDS readings, and hence represent a total of GH and KH levels combined. A 'PPM' figure should be devided by 17.9 to obtain a dH reading.
    Wakabayashi 65 to 78ppm,
    Takumi 76 to 85ppm, Takigawa 105 to 108ppm,
    Imai 35 to 48ppm,
    Inoue 35 to 48ppm,
    Momotaro 75 to 85ppm.

    ***
    MOMOTARO KOI FARM Momotaro is certainly one of the top 5 breeders in Japan. President Maeda (Mr Momotaro) feels anxious when growing Koi in mud ponds. President Maeda, feels that once Koi are placed into mud ponds; things are no longer in his control. Consequently, President Maeda is much happier growing Koi in concrete ponds, as the Koi can be carefully watched, and their growth and development can be carefully controlled.This is an area where Momotaro Koi Farm excels! … President Maeda say's that low water hardness and low Nitrates are of the utmost importance in the quest for maximum growth and good development in Koi. …

    JAPANESE OPINIONS
    After asking several breeders in Japan about the topic of water hardness, it was said by all, that soft water is essential in order to grow large Koi, further, good Hi quality, Teri (lustre) and Tsuya (shine) is also considered to develop well in soft water. But, the opposite is true for good white ground, requiring slightly harder water conditions.

    Mr Izeki of Izeki Products is quoted as saying that, he considers a water GH value should be as low as possible, also if GH measures 3 dH (51ppm) or over, it should be lowered. In the September of 1999 issue of "Nichirin", the ZNA Japanese Koi magazine there is an
    article entitled "Basic Koi Keeping" subtitle, Water Hardness. This article was supervised by Dr Takeo Kuroki (Honorary Chairman of the ZNA), Mr Nobuo Takigawa (Chief of the Keeping Skills Bureau), and Professor Ken Sasaki (of Hiroshima Kokusai Gakuin University).
    (quote): "Hardness. Hardness is an indication of the amount of calcium or magnesium; the lower this is the better suited the water is to the raising of Nishikigoi. A reading below 50ppm (2.92dh) is considered desirable. This degree of hardness is also said to control the appearance of the Hi and the Sumi".

    WATER HARNESS SHOCK When Koi are harvested and put into hard water, they can sometimes roll onto their sides. The Japanese professional refer to this as Water Hardness Shock. A transition from soft to hard water is believed to causes Koi great discomfort and
    stress; hence they may sit on the bottom and are often to be seen rolling over on their sides. It usually takes about three days for the Koi to adjust to the water hardness and behave normally. This can also happen when Koi are sent from Japan to England, despite sometimes the water being hardened in Japan prior to shipping, this effect can still be observed from time to time, however, the Koi soon adjust. It is also accepted in Japan that Koi are more resistant to disease and also heal at a faster rate in softer water. Note: Water hardness shock does not occur in the case of a Koi being moved from hard into soft water.

    CONCLUSION There are two routes to take with hardness levels in your pond. HIGH GH LEVELS Good white ground and sumi development, but poor growth rates. (Ideal for those that are hoping to show their Koi, or those that have less time to devote to pond maintenance). LOW GH LEVELS. High growth rates, deep and even Hi, but weaker white skin, and slower Sumi development. Bear in mind however, that just a few weeks in hard water will improve the white skin ready for a Koi Show. It would be preferable to definitely go for the latter approach, it could be viewed as a waste of time and money to invest in buying an expensive Koi, and then restrict it's growth and development. From a personal point, I have just purchased a water softener. This unit uses ion exchange resins to remove
    the GH ions, and substitute them for Sodium ions. In practice, this unit will completely 'zero'
    the GH, so it is essential to allow some water to bypass the unit in order to obtain the desired
    GH level. "

    So, that pretty much gives us the Snaden recommendation for 'ideal' water.

  4. #4
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Postscript: Given my source water, I should probably give up Gosanke and focus on Shiro Utsuri. But, I love Showa and Sanke too much to do that. And, I'm too lazy to alter my source water.

    It can be a good thing to have an understanding of what is 'ideal', but if implementing it takes away from your enjoyment of your koi, then it really is not 'ideal' for you.

  5. #5
    Jumbo Appliance Guy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeM View Post
    Postscript: Given my source water, I should probably give up Gosanke and focus on Shiro Utsuri. But, I love Showa and Sanke too much to do that. And, I'm too lazy to alter my source water.

    It can be a good thing to have an understanding of what is 'ideal', but if implementing it takes away from your enjoyment of your koi, then it really is not 'ideal' for you.
    Don't do it- it's a fools paradise! LOL

  6. #6
    Jumbo Appliance Guy's Avatar
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    I don't think there is an ideal. I think there is a range of acceptable.

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