Just a few years ago, climate change was viewed as a “kick the can down the road” kind of a problem, with no need for immediate action (more so by one particular political party). How quickly things have changed. During what is becoming an epic and historic drought in California, the American public is now facing the reality that climate change is not only real, but effecting their lives today.
In a creative effort to keep millions of gallons of water from evaporating into the atmosphere, a few options were thrown around. One option was to put a roof over the reservoirs to keep the hot sun off the water, but that proved to be extremely costly ($250 million). Another option that is actually being implemented right now, is dropping millions of floating, plastic black balls into the water….enough to cover the entire surface. The idea is pretty simple, keep the sun off the water so less water evaporates.
So, where are these balls coming from?
A few companies have taken on the task. One company, XavierC LLC is a manufacturer out of Glendora, California, and they have only really been in business for a few years. Lucky for them, they have been receiving orders for millions of their four-inch polyethylene balls for the Los Angeles Department of Water and power (LADWP. That is just a jumping off point, as around 100 million are needed to fully cover all the reservoirs in Los Angeles.
What is so special about these balls?
These balls are specifically manufactured for this purpose with black polyethylene. They are partially filled with water so they won’t blow away. The balls are specially coated to resist ultraviolet light and protect them from degradation, extending the lifespan of each ball to roughly 25 years.
All this just to stop evaporation?
Although slowing evaporation is the main goal, there is a bit more too it than that. There is a chemical called bromite that occurs naturally in ground water. Groundwater is treated with chlorine to disinfect it properly for human consumption. When bromite and chlorine are in water together, and that water is exposed to high intensity UV sunlight, it creates bromate. Bromate is potentially carcinogenic, so it’s not exactly something you want in the water supply for millions of people. The balls also stop the growth of harmful algae and keep birds out of the reservoirs.
What is the cost?
Each shade ball costs around 33 cents. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has already put around 96 million in place in various reserviors. As of right now, this has cost about $34.5 million. A small price to pay to have water to drink, right?
Is this a new idea?
Nope, the use of plastic balls is nothing new. In the past, they were generally used to control vapors from dangerous industrial chemicals, keep birds away from water near airports, etc. Nothing on this scale has ever been done to protect drinking water.
Won’t these balls just leech more chemicals into the water?
It has been promised that these balls will not leech any chemicals into the water, and are totally safe. We have also been promised things like this before over the years, so it may be a normal to be uncomfortable with this whole thing.
Is it working?
Apparently, these balls are very effective. They shade and protect the water from UV rays, and slow evaporation by 85-90%. Experts are estimating that the implementation of these balls will save 300 million gallons of water a year, which is enough for 8,100 people annually. A pretty impressive and creative solution to a problem that humans created.