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
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
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