Los Angeles uses “shade balls” to cover reservoirs, save water.
The City of Los Angeles (and the nation) hasn’t been as excited about anything having to do with balls since 1975 when Farrah Fawcett appeared in a shaving cream commercial for Noxzema’s “Great Balls of Comfort” campaign.
The excitement today is over 96 million “shade balls” that have been deployed in drinking water reservoirs around Los Angeles since 2008.
On Monday at a media event, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was on hand for the final placement of 20,000 shade balls in the 175-acre Los Angeles Reservoir.
Although the city’s efforts in using shade balls?described as hollow 4” black, UV resistant, non-degradable high-density polyethylene plastic balls made to float on the surface of the water?might prove a “comfort” of sorts in its efforts to conserve water from loss to evaporation, the idea is actually the result of EPA requirements that all reservoirs be covered to ensure safe drinking water. It seems that UV rays from sunlight, natural bromine found in groundwater, and chlorine used to control algae in reservoirs create a harmful chemical reaction that is toxic (the carcinogen bromate). Covering reservoirs prevents this from happening.
While there is some lessening of evaporation as a result of covering the reservoirs with shade balls, at least enough according to Garcetti to save 300 million gallons a year of water which can provide water to more than 8,000 city residents, the primary reason for covering them is to avoid serving a toxic cocktail to residents, a fact conveniently avoided by emphasizing the water savings from evaporation.
At 36 cents apiece, shade balls could save the city as much as $250 million dollars from not having to cover its reservoirs with expensive tarps, floating covers, or building hard roofs over them, as well as reduce the use of chlorine used to control algae. The project is part of a $34.5 million initiative by the LADWP to protect the city’s water supply.
The story has received lots of national attention largely due to the four year drought in California, but the interest here in the Owens Valley is that anything Los Angeles and its Department of Water and Power can do to conserve water to reduce water exports south is hopefully a good thing. As to fears of ‘shade ball’ deployment in reservoirs here in the Eastern Sierra, rest easy?that simply is not likely for a host of other environmental and political reasons, although some local critics might say that LADWP has a history of “shadeballs” going back over 100 years. Therein may lie the problem with the name chosen for the “orbs.” Even “shadow balls” or “shadeshadow globes” might have been a better choice.
The news media and the public are naturally having a field day with all kinds of nuanced, euphemistic reporting and commentary that also includes plenty of double-entendres which simply go to prove that, at heart, most of us are only a heartbeat away from being back in junior high school. And loving every minute of it.
And then there are of course the never-ending critics here and elsewhere of LADWP and the political leadership in Los Angeles that question their motives regardless of what decisions they make, even if well-intentioned.
Some critics are voicing environmental concerns over plastic being used to make the shade balls and eventual recycling. Others claim that the Mayor is using the project strictly to benefit in some way politically or financially, or in some way to reward political or financial supporters. One of the less egregious, if not humorous takes cited “Hanlon’s Razor,” an aphorism that simply states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
NPR News headlined the event held on Monday in Los Angeles as “LA Rolls Out Water-Saving ‘Shade Balls’” that then went on to say “got their moment in the sun.” Bloomberg News started its coverage by explaining that the slang version is of “shadeball”?at least according to online slang authority urbandictionary.com?is of a person so shady, they have become “shade” in physical form. Again, that characterization might prove unfortunate if chosen to be applied by local critics of the LADWP Aqueduct. There is often very little fairness or civility when it comes to Los Angeles’s history with the L.A. Aqueduct here in the Owens Valley.
Are shade balls a good thing or a bad thing? Only time will tell, but as one online forum commentator noted, he just cannot get enough of local LA newscasters repeatedly saying the words “shade balls” over and over.