The Big Ball Drop, Shade Balls To The Rescue : Saving LA’s Water
12-10-2016 4:21am | by Web Desk
Saving LA’s Water From California Drought : The Big Ball Drop, Shade Balls To The Rescue
To combat the extreme California drought, the creative juices of the creative people of Los Angeles rose to the top. The drought had hit every aspect of usage. Everyone needed to conserve water.
Green lawns turned to river rock and cactus, residents went to every-other-day showers, and city leaders spent sleepless nights on solutions to the shrinking levels in reservoirs. Not only was the source of the city’s drinking water challenged by evaporation but the heat threatened a chemical reaction causing carcinogenic tainting.
The solution came by way of a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power engineer. He’d seen these balls floating in ponds near the airport. Turns out the drainage ditches were necessary for airport safety but the birds that flocked to the open water, weren’t. So the airport covered the ponds with black plastic shade balls and voila problem solved.
When adapted for the utility’s use the plastic balls became shade balls. The balls are indeed a safe plastic, polyethylene, and filled with potable water for ballast, so are friendly to the environment. The balls float together to form a complete cover that protected the surface of the water from wind and cut UV rays and thus heat.
The amount that had been lost to evaporation went down by 80-90%. Algae growth declined so the water didn’t need to be treated as much. This creative, low technology solution had saved about 300 million gallons of water and $240 million in lower treatment costs.
The story became an internet sensation with outlets from Science Daily to Silica Today to Buzzfeed captivated by the story. The potential threat of dwindling supplies or contamination of the water supply of a major city is usually the stuff of the super villains in comic book stories.
The 3.3 billion gallons sitting in the Los Angeles Reservoir and the image of 96 million black shade balls being released from small white bags into the water is the stuff of a dramatic superhero rescue. The headlines paired with the visual of nearly 100 million 4” plastic orbs spilling down the banks into the river made for an interesting news day.
Los Angeles imports 90% of its water and evaporation is a constant enemy. In 2013 and 2014 the city lost 63 trillion gallons while in transit. The recent drought has stretched on for over four years and is the worst in modern history, but not the only one. The 1976-1977 period was dryer than the recent spate but it is worse now. With more people comes more drain on resources.
Delivering water to Los Angeles is an engineering feat aided by some decidedly high tech solutions as well. As the largest municipally owned public utility in the country, LA DWP is challenged to not just keep up with water needs and conservation but to keep ahead of it.
As a part answer to those challenges, the utility recently partnered with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator on the La Kretz Innovation Campus, putting computing power and open source technology to work to improve delivery and conserve energy. We can state albeit with caution that the future looks brighter.
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