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Water Testing Kits – How Close Is Close Enough?

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When I was touring the SeaChem laboratories, one of the scientists was discussing their approach to developing and constantly improving their water testing kits.

She described their test for strontium, which takes about 10 minutes to complete and is testing for 8 parts per million. She emphasized the need for accuracy and asked if, at 8 parts per million, “close enough” was really close enough?

Then she asked the same question in general: How “close enough” was close enough?

When I was new in the industry, I would have answered that water testing kits needed to provide pinpoint accuracy every time I tested water. But as I worked on more tanks over time, I found that the number that a test kit measured was less important than what was happening in the tank.

In other words, the importance of knowing if an aquarium’s water’s alkalinity was 8.35 dKH or “somewhere between 8-9 dKH” was more of a question of what livestock was in the aquarium and the tank’s history than it was of the exact number that got measured.

With some tanks, we just needed a general idea of where things were. As long as the aquarium looked good and was getting good healthy growth over time, it wasn’t as important if, for example, calcium measured 440 or 480.

For others, though, it mattered greatly, because of certain livestock in the aquarium, or the degree to which the owner was hands-on with his tank.

So it seems that how close is “close enough” varies depending on the aquarium, the livestock, and the owner of the tank.

What do you think? How close is “close enough” for your tank? Do you need to know exactly what your water parameters are? Or is a general idea enough for you to know that things are heading into the right direction? Leave your comments below.

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