ow many of you do your water changes and
tank maintenance at weekends ? Do you work hard all week, and
come home exhausted every evening ? Is it sometimes the case that
the only thing you feel like doing before you have dinner and
fall into bed, is to feed your fish, check that they’re
all OK and make sure that pumps and filters are working properly
? Is anything more time-consuming, like water changes, often put
off until the weekend, when you have more time, and more energy
If that scenario strikes a chord with anyone, read on
and take note!
I have always believed that it’s not a good idea to try
to be a “Jack of all Trades”, because one invariably
finishes up as a “Master of None”. Therefore, I have
always tried to study and learn as much as I can about one particular
family of fishes before I move on to another. In 1980, I was 4-years
into a 10-year study of the Catfish family, Mochokidae - particularly
the Genus Synodontis, and I probably had every species
that had ever been imported into the UK up to that time.
I was quite friendly with a particular
local shop, and when they rang and said they had the first two
specimens of an unidentified Synodontis, to be imported
into this country, I just had to go and see them. They were about
3 inches long and had wide black and white vertical bars along
the whole length of their bodies. They were labelled Synodontis
“ Zebra ”, and they were absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately,
they had a price tag of £80 each, which was an awful lot
of money 26 years ago - probably equivalent to about £400
each by today’s standards. (I should, at this stage, tell
you that these fish were eventually named as Synodontis ornatipinnis.)
However, our first wedding anniversary was
imminent, and my husband offered to buy them as a present. They
were installed in a quarantine tank in the kitchen, and they settled
down, started eating, and began to look really good. One Friday
evening, after I’d had them a couple of weeks, I decided
to do a partial water change - about 20%. Those were the days
before RO units, De-ionisers and other fancy water-treatment equipment
became commonplace – all I had was our mains water supply
and a bottle of Haloex, a tapwater conditioner made by Seaquariums,
which was excellent at removing chlorine and some other undesirable
The Haloex was added, the water change was completed – and
all seemed well – for just about 2 minutes, after which
time, right in front of our eyes, all the skin and flesh peeled
off of the bones of these poor fish, just as though they had been
dipped in acid. It was like something out of a horror movie –
they almost completely dissolved – there was no time to
do anything and it was all over in the blink of an eye. I was
rooted to the spot in disbelief, staring at what was left of them.
Never in my life had I seen anything like it before, and I never
want to again.
I tearfully rang the Water Board, who had
a special number for weekend and out-of-hours emergencies, but
I was told to ring the main offices on Monday morning. I remember
that rather strange conversation with someone – initially
I got the feeling that I wasn’t being taken totally seriously.
However, I was deadly serious, and I was mortified at the horrible
death of my rare and beautiful fishes – and at the loss
of my special anniversary present. I was also hysterically angry
and spitting blood to think that some awful fish-killing substance
had somehow got into our mains tap water, without our knowledge.
It took a long time to uncover the truth,
but I was a woman on a mission, and I can be doggedly persistent
when necessary. After being transferred to many different people,
I eventually found out that every now and again, the water mains
suffer from an explosion of Copepods, small crustaceans which,
whilst not poisonous, are not altogether desirable. These organisms
can be controlled by an insecticide derived from Pyrethrin.
It appears that when the “people who
make these decisions”, judge that it is necessary, a certain
amount of this insecticide is added to the mains. The water mains
are then flushed through with this stuff, and the Copepods are
temporarily eradicated. I further discovered that these operations,
including the addition of any other additives deemed necessary,
are normally carried out immediately before a weekend.
I was finally told that Pyrethrin had, indeed,
been added to our mains water just before that very weekend, and
that the same operation was carried out several times a year.
I remember yelling down the telephone (quite unreasonably, with
hindsight) that I was going to sue the Water Board and everyone
in it - that I was going to ring the national newspapers and television
companies, and write to my MP and anyone else who would listen
! I was apoplectic with anger – how dare they kill my fish
It was eventually explained to me, by a very patient and long-suffering
employee at the other end of the telephone, and I quote,
we are under contract to supply water which is fit for human consumption,
it does not necessarily have to be fit for fish to live in”.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing - water
is a fish’s natural environment – of course it’s
bl**dy well supposed to be fit for fish to live in!
I was too amazed and gob-smacked by this pronouncement to accept
their reasoning and, I must admit, 26 years later, it still puzzles
me. The water board did offer to add me to their mailing list
of people to be notified of future dates when chemicals would
be added to the mains, but it was too late for my fish.
Very soon after that, we fixed up some plastic guttering around
the edge of our conservatory roof, and invested in a couple of
non-toxic water butts for rainwater. This was used exclusively
for water-changes, up until 3 years ago when we bought an R.O.
I don’t know if the Water Board still carries out this procedure
– I hope not.
Perhaps, after a quarter of a century,
their technology has advanced and things are done differently
now – I hope so.
However, if you’re thinking
of doing a water change at the weekend with mains tapwater - unless
you’re absolutely sure it’s safe,
heed the warning…
Photo Credits: Danny Blundell