California is an agriculturally rich state complete with beautiful parks and picturesque coastlines, but without adequate water supplies the state and its people tend to struggle. In 2015, the state is suffering from a prolonged drought, which is hurting wildlife, citizens and businesses alike. In Los Angeles, innovations such as shade balls are being implemented at water collection points, in an effort to preserve water.

 

What Are Shade Balls?

Shade balls are black polyethylene spheres designed to prevent the evaporation of water and the contamination of water by wildlife. They vary in diameter, but many can be held in the palm of your hand and are light-weight, making them easy to transport to reservoirs. Shade balls are black because darker colors do a better job of absorbing sunlight, keeping the heat away from the water. Just think how hot your black car or black t-shirt feels after even a few minutes in the sun. Black plastic components also tend to last longer than white when exposed to large doses of UV rays. The shade balls used in the LA reservoir were pigmented with carbon black, a nearly pure carbon often used in rubber. It has an albedo near zero, meaning it’s incredibly dark and reflects almost no light. The black shade balls will also cool down faster than white balls would. There are many benefits to this water conservation technique, including the relatively economical price per shade ball. According to the Huffington Post, the shade balls released into the Los Angeles Reservoir in 2015 cost about 36 cents apiece and were made in LA.

How Do Shade Balls Work?

The plastic balls are released in vast numbers and cover the surface of water supplies, blocking sunlight from reaching the water’s surface. They are intended to create shade and lower the temperature of the water, although they do minimally block evaporation as well. Transport trucks are needed to get the many thousands of balls to their intended destination. Once they’re released, shade balls need little or no maintenance and can be removed using a variety of basic collection tools. They also pose no threat to the drinking water itself as they do not emit chemicals.

Application of Shade Balls

In August of 2015, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power released 96 million plastic balls into the 175-acre Los Angeles Reservoir, as part of a drought relief project. Watch this video of the balls being released-don’t you wish you’d been there???

The water’s surface is completely shielded from sunlight, making it look as if you can walk from one end of the reservoir to the other. The shade balls are estimated to prevent the evaporation of up to 300 million gallons of water per year from this water supply.

Short-term Solution

Shade balls are a novel approach to water conservation and can make a difference over the short-term. However, shade balls are merely a short-term solution to a larger environmental problem. Shade balls can help California blunt the impact of droughts, but the root cause of prolonged dry periods needs to be addressed, if California’s water supplies are going to stand the test of time. In short, over the short-term shade balls can help California survive drought, but another solution is needed for long-term water conservation.

Plastics & Water Conservation

Plastics can have a positive impact on the environment provided they’re applied in the right manner. Shade balls are an excellent example of how simple plastic forms can protect the environment and improve the quality of life for everyday citizens. The economical price and reusability of plastic, especially in the case of shade balls, are benefits of using this material. Whether it’s plastic tarps or shade balls, plastic can aid in water conversation.

Shade balls have the power to prevent evaporation and preserve precious water supplies, while California endures painful droughts. However, shade balls can only do so much and are a short-term solution to a larger problem.

Questions?  Comments?  Let us know in the comments section below.

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