“The future wars will be fought over water.”
Are we heading for a future where those who have the cleanest and most abundant water will be the most prosperous? As it stands, to discern which countries are first world and which are third the cleanliness of drinking water is a consideration.
To conserve clean water some have been thinking outside the box. California’s county of Los Angeles has been through a long drought so is ready to go ‘balls to the wall’ to try and save their water.
In 2015, 96 million apple-sized, black polyethylene (plastic) balls were floating in the Los Angeles Reservoir.
American news outlets ran with the story with the following headlines, from the New York Times: In California, Millions of ‘Shade Balls’ Combat A Nagging Drought. And the Washington Post reported: Plastic ‘shade balls’: The hypnotizing tool California is using to save water.
Except, the balls were never intended to be the answer to California’s drought problems. California was utilizing the balls before the drought had ever started ravaging the land. The media had failed to do its research.
All about chemicals
The L.A. Department of Water and Power had been introducing the plastic balls into their reservoirs since 2008. The first few were dumped into the Ivanhoe water reservoir in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.
The county had begun to notice that the UV rays of the sun were turning naturally occurring bromide into bromate. Bromate is a concern for municipal reservoirs around the world - it is a cancer-causing chemical. Silver Lake’s reservoir is especially at risk because, being uncovered, it is directly exposed to sunlight.
The balls were commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to counteract the sun’s UV rays and keep the water safe. Incredibly they delivered a dual benefit: they did indeed keep the water safe from bromate, but they also conserved water by reducing evaporation.
They slowed the evaporation of water and prevented the degradation of its quality, but at a cost - the shade balls cost the state USD$34.5 million, with each ball costing 36 cents. Reducing evaporation would’ve only saved Los Angeles USD$2 million per year. (But the cost savings to individuals who may have contracted Bromate inducing cancers should also be factored in.)
LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards told NPR:
“This is a blend of how engineering really meets common sense. We saved a lot of money ; we did all the right things.”
Many reservoirs do not need to take these kinds of measures due to being covered; the ones that remain open require preventive measures so that chemical contamination does not occur.
The company that designed and manufactured them is XavierC. They specialize in the manufacturing of the “ballasted plastic conservation balls” and were well aware of their ability to slow evaporation. The company says it is a “cost effective, low maintenance solution for Cities and Municipalities”. The company says the balls should last for 25 years.
The solution is unfortunately not so neat. Richard Harasick, the director of the L.A. Department of Water and Power said that the department knew the shade balls would not be a permanent solution for reservoirs that supply drinking water to Los Angeles. Drinking water reservoirs have to be covered - shade balls allegedly do not comply with the standards needed.
The shade balls are being removed from the reservoirs in L.A. and costly coverings are being built. The shade balls do, however, remain in L.A.’s Reservoir #2 as the reservoir does not hold any drinking water.
The market for creating a technology that conserves water and presents a solution for drought- stricken areas remains.
Maddaus, Gene. "Shade Balls Are a Really Stupid Way to Conserve Water." L.A. Weekly. 02 Apr. 2016. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.
Wagner, Laura. "LA Rolls Out Water-Saving 'Shade Balls'" NPR. NPR, 11 Aug. 2015. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.