Power Failures.

OK. There has been a lot of talk about the failure of our electricity provider to provide us with electricity. Perhaps too much talk to quote a famous U2 song…

For those of you not located in South Africa, we have been having ongoing power failures by our state owned and state bungled electricity monopoly – in a nut shell they have failed dismally to plan for our economic growth and have now run out of capacity.

In their defence, pitiful as it is, they did point this out on 1998 in an obscure white paper never read or acted on by anyone in power (who really ought to have known better). The real question is what happened to the 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 white papers that would have surely been increasing in their urgency?

Whatever. It's not our place to rant and rave about the idiocy of our elected official buffoons. It speaks for itself really! The stark, harsh facts are that apparently we have this to look forward to for the next 2 years as a best case scenario (if some old power stations can be coaxed back into life) and 5 in the worst (if they can't).

The point remains that our beloved Koi (and aquariums) are now at serious risk and there are no easy solutions. Let’s check our why and see if the legendary South Africa resourcefulness along the lines of “‘n boer maak ‘n plan” (which translates into ‘a farmer makes a plan’) can help ease the pain.

Power failures for a few hours at a time are serious. What happens is that your Koi, tropicals or marine fish pick up that something ain’t quite right. This puts them on edge and introduces the dreaded stress factor that we spend our lives trying to eliminate for our fishy friends. Shame, their brains aren’t all that big and they just can’t cope with sudden changes.

Stress lowers the immune response. Hence the risk of disease increases – parasites after all don’t have brains and so don’t register that something has changed! They just spot an opportunity to bite into a nice succulent fish (if they are fed on Hikari of course! – sorry!) and it’s a free lunch and a  great time to multiply…

This is the immediate effect of a power failure, as in 10 seconds after the power failure timeline kicks in. We hope that Koi will learn to deal with these outages in time, but for the first few weeks you will probably notice your Koi being distinctly uneasy about life in general and very pleased to see you as their regular feeders. Always good to have a Chagoi in your pond – they never seem stressed and their relaxation seems to rub off on the other Koi. Wilhemina for instance sees power cuts now as feeding sessions – despite this being a very bad idea. But she’s so cute! How can we say no?

But feeding is probably a terrible idea. Fish generally excrete waste about an hour or so after feeding meaning an ammonia build-up in a pond without circulation or filtration. This adds to the stress, compounding the situation.

Then we need to think about our filters. About an hour into a power failure those of you still using sand filters have serious problems. By now all the oxygen in the and filter is long gone and the good bacteria such as they are in the filter are dying in droves. The bad bacteria that are used to anaerobic conditions are now going wild, multiplying, feeding off the dead and the detritus in the filter (and if you haven’t backwashed in a day or two there is plenty for them to eat).

In short it’s a bit of a mess. And it gets worse.

When the power comes back on this toxic poisonous sludge of virulent bacteria, dissolved toxic gases and who knows what else has been conjured up in this festering soup in the past few hours is injected straight back into your pond. Charming. Now your fish have to deal with this as well as all the other stuff going on.

It’s only a matter of time before the situation builds up slowly and gets out of control and you end up with disease, ulcers and dead fish.

We don’t mean to scare you, but Happy Koi has never, nor will ever, sugar coat what is the reality of the situation. You need to know what is happening in order to understand it in order to figure out a way of dealing with it.

The obvious thing is to turn your pump off in the event of a power failure. This allows you to turn it back on at your leisure and to thoroughly flush your sand filter by backwashing it BEFORE putting it back onto it’s regular filter setting.

In the case of low pressure filter systems – something like our Duo, the oxygen depletion effect is far more limited – because the filters are completely oxygen saturated at all times. Yes, the bacteria will still strip out the oxygen but because the systems are ‘open’ you get some oxygen transfer taking place between the surface and the media.

The solutions to the problem will vary substantially according to your budget and your system. A small UPS can keep a small air pump running for a good number of hours – and this is the absolute minimum that we would suggest. Keep air running in your pond and you allow massive water circulation within the pond, and maximum oxygenation. This helps with stress!

Also, the same system can keep a low pressure filter system alive for as long as it runs. Again, the case of the Duo the bio stages can be kept alive at the cost of a very low power consumption – one small air pump draws a lot less juice than a .75kW swimming pool pump!

The bad news is that if you have a high pressure system using big pumps and sand filters you really have no viable alternative to a generator. Preferably one with a self start to kick in when you are at work and the power is off at home (unless you have someone on hand to start the thing for you). You will need to size your generator accordingly. Always allow an extra 30% capacity to cater for the additional power your pumps will pull when they start up.

Bear in mind the running costs. We worked out that our 7.2 kVA unit will cost us around R100/day assuming a 6 hour total outage. That’s over R3k a month in running costs! Ouchies!

A UPS at R4.5k will give you 100W for 20 hours. That’s 2 air pumps at 50W each and two air pumps will keep a low pressure filter alive as well as run vital air into the Koi pond.

And you can buy a UPS every two months for the same price as the running costs of a generator. Eventually you will have enough UPS capacity to run a small army of pumps!

There is no easy answer. The idea is to minimise the impact and damage that the power failures cause your system – and the solutions to those will be different in each case. Chat to us if you are uncertain and want our advice or if you want to change your filter system to cope.