L.A.'s Got Balls: Here's One Answer to the Drought

Reservoir Shade Balls

--Image Credit: Associated Press

Los Angeles officials have decided manmade plastic can help their city’s water supply survive the effects of manmade global warming.

Ironic, no?

Whether it’s the best or the worst of life, it always rolls downhill, and so have 96 million plastic balls rolled into the Los Angeles Reservoir, creating what one supporter of the plan told the New York Times is “the world’s largest ball pit.”

The last 20,000 of the balls were rolled into the reservoir Aug. 10, completing the $34.5 million project.

L.A. officials are hoping this will help the city deal with a true water crisis. Four years of drought have dried their water supply nearly to the bone. City engineers promise the black, plastic shade balls will slow evaporation and algae growth by blocking sunlight and UV rays.

The balls should also block sunlight-triggered chemical reactions, keep birds and other wildlife out of the water, and protect the water from rain and wind-blown dust.

The L.A. Reservoir is not the only facility of its kind holding water for the people of Los Angeles, but it is the biggest. Its 3.3 billion gallons of water is enough to supply the city for three weeks.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote on his Facebook page the balls now floating on top of the 175-acre reservoir could save 300 million gallons of water a year.

Garcetti called the 96 million balls a “cost-effective investment” that should also bring the L.A. Reservoir into compliance with new federal water-quality mandates.

The shade balls are expected to save the city $250 million when compared to other comparable tools considered to save the water of the Los Angeles Reservoir.

As simple as it seems, it is also a fresh idea. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is the first utility company to use plastic balls for water-quality protection.

But rolling the balls into the L.A. Reservoir was not Garcetti’s first choice. City engineers did look at other options.

Those alternatives included splitting the reservoir into two with a bisecting dam; and installing two floating covers that would have cost more than $300 million.

However, it didn’t take a state-of-the-art computer system to show making plastic balls and floating them on the water, while almost childlike in its simplicity, was incredibly inexpensive.

City officials said that at $0.36 each the shade balls require no construction, parts, labor or maintenance aside from occasional rotation.

“Shade balls are a great example of how engineering meets common sense,” Marcie Edwards, the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said. “Shade balls are an affordable and effective way to comply with regulations, and helps us continue to deliver the best drinking water to our customers.”