As many of you might have read from a popular BuzzFeed article, Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, has recently signed off on the release of 96 million “shade balls” into the Los Angeles Reservoir.
These shade balls are small, four inch black plastic balls made of black polyethylene, and costs 36 cents each according to Time Magazine. Initially, some researchers were confident that the shade balls could effectively save up to 300 million gallons of water every year, an especially prevalent feat against California’s drought. According to NPR, 300 million gallons of water is a supply great enough to provide at least three weeks worth of drinking water for Los Angeles residents. In theory, these shade balls reduce the amount of water evaporated by dramatically reducing the surface area of the reservoir they cover.
Unfortunately, new research is emerging describing the potential negative implications of the shade balls. One article from Tech Times written by Jill Arce, slams the shade balls, declaring flaws in the design and introduces a possible alternative motive for the Mayor to use this method.
Research the Mayor chose to cite from The Daily News claims that because the balls will completely cover the water- the average temperature of the water should drop due to less sunlight exposure. Water that is a cooler temperature will create an environment that is not as hospitable for algae and further bacterial growth. However, Experts do not agree. According to The Grist, the shade balls actually increase the surface area for bacterial growth because the surface and sides of the balls will increase the area bacteria and algae have to spawn and develop. Also, the black color of the balls will actually heat up the water, leading to an increased evaporation rate. It is predicted that LA’s reservoir can expect skyrocketing microorganism growth.
It has recently been brought to the LAWPD News Room‘s attention that EPA regulations state that large open reservoirs of water need to be covered to protect the water from chemical contamination. City officials were slotted to purchase an actual shade to cover the reservoir, but the shade balls were much less expensive- raising eyebrows within the scientific community, seeing that the research behind the balls shows more negatives then positives for water quality and conservation. Some reports, such as this one from The Grist, suggest that the Councilmen only launched the shade balls in an attempt to save money while meeting the EPA’s standards- not because the balls are truly effective. While a shade would have been much more expensive, it would not have nearly as much controversy surrounding its effectiveness at water conservation and prevention of contamination.
When I first stumbled upon this article from BuzzFeed, I thought the shade balls were an incredibly unique and effective solution for keeping the drought in California at bay. However, now that I have given myself the opportunity to look into this report further, I am starting to realize that these shade balls are actually really shady.
This blog post ties into the main themes of SCI 200- when it comes to science, you need to be skeptical! I was so willing to buy into the idea of shade balls just because a funky BuzzFeed article made them sound cool and creative. After reading multiple arguments for and against the shade balls, I have ultimately come to the conclusion that I do not believe the shade balls are useful, and that they were only adopted by the LA government in an attempt to save money. When it comes to science, it is important to look at both sides of the coin, and form your own opinion. Are these shade balls actually extraordinary, or are they just a cheaper alternative to a real solution? Please let me know what you think of these shade balls in the comments!