Wed. Aug 21st, 2019

Why 96 million balls on This Reservoir?

4 min read

these are shade balls they’re being dumped into this water reservoir in Los Angeles

and contrary to what you may have heard their main purpose is not to reduce evaporation

so what are they really for? To find out I am visiting the largest collection of these balls anywhere on Earth at L.A. reservoir

96 million shade balls.

That’s correct. 96 million it’s very rare for you to see 96 million of anything

This is your life vest which you are required to wear. Alright.

Throw your leg over and climb on in anyway you can

there you go. Thank you

looking at this I had so many questions. Like why are they black? Are they safe to have in drinking water?

How much do they cost? Do they actually reduce evaporation? And what is their real purpose?

is it hard to drive in shade balls. It is very hard. Why is that?

These are actually partially filled with water the reason they’re filled with water is that in L.A reservoir we have some really high winds

and so if we didn’t put water in these things there’d be balls bouncing on the 5 freeways people would drive down they’d be all over the place

so these keep the balls in the reservoir and if they do start to roll they kinda wobble because of water makes them uneven

but that makes them significantly difficult to push out of the way especially when they form close-packed crystal like structures

behind the boat the balls quickly come together in our wake

and some close to the motor are pulled along with boat


did you what did you think the first time they suggested doing this or when it first came in

yeah it was a little out there. did you think they were nuts? No, not nuts

it just like. It looks absurd

It’s like we’re in the world’s biggest ball pit

yeah right that’s what it looks like you can’t tell by standing here that we’re actually floating over

I think it’s probably 40 50 feet right here, 40 50 feet deep below us

you can’t even see any water

you’d think it was a joke. Right?

if you didn’t know.

You’d be like no you’re not that’s like a green screen or something alright yeah it’s fake

so like when i switch on my tap at home is the water coming from here?

Yes. Sometimes, or always. Most of the times

Most of the time the water is coming from here, absolutely nuts

why is LA reservoir covered in shade balls?

the problem all started with Bromide

Bromide is a naturally occurring substance associated with salt water

so normally places like the California aqueduct that comes down from the delta

you get some salt water intrusions we have some bromide in the water

bromide is harmless and it’s almost impossible to remove

and when you disinfect the water with ozone, that bromide becomes bromate

bromates are carcinogenic

and so around year 2000 they wrote regulations regulating bromate

and the regulations basically said if you have a treatment plant that uses ozone

then you have to watch bromate to be careful not to form to much

so the only place we ever measured bromate was in our filter plant

and the results were always within 10 micrograms per liter limit set by regulators

so they were confused when they got a call from one of their customers a beverage company in L.A

they said we have some really high levels of bromate showing up are you aware of this?

but between the filtration plant and the customer was the reservoir

so they did some tests

almost immediatly upon coming into this open reservoir the bromate levels jumped

it turned that bromide with chlorine which is supposed to be safe in bright sunlight form bromate even more than ozone

and so we made this unfortunate scientific discovery that actually wasn’t a part of any regulatory scheme

and so here we are at reservoir

we have water source that’s got bromide in it harmless

we have chlorine, we have to have disinfected water, we have sunlight because it is open

the only choice we have is to remove sunlight

so we looked at all sorts of things

we looked at floating tarps across the water

and normally we put a floating cover on the water but that’s a multi-year project

and so we said can’t we manufacture kind of trampoline with poly like PVC pipe

they’re just gonna become bird perches, it’ll have a big water quality problem

Black Balls on This Reservoir?

and so we knew we had high density polyethylene pipe which is used in the water industry

we know that it floats and we at one point thought about can we get to float a pile of pipe across the surface

Why 96 million balls on This Reservoir?

well that’s hard to do and very expensive because it’s a lot of material

so maybe we could take some pipe and run it through a chipper and we can make a debris field across the surface

like the back corner of a lake somewhere

but in anyhow all this mushy warm water with plastic floating on the top that sounds like a petri dish

and so lo and behold Dr Brian White did some research and he found the shade ball

except they weren’t called shade balls at the time

this product existed and they were called bird balls

and they’d use it on ponds that had mine tailings where they didn’t want waterfowl to go in and get poisoned

and also around airports where there were ponds and they wanted to keep the waterfowl off so that they didn’t take off and get into the jet engines

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