Can 'Shade Balls' Temporarily Quell California's Drought?

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The Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades—seen in Sylmar, California, on May 4—bring water 223 miles from the Owens River in the eastern Sierra Nevadas and 137 miles from the Haiwee Reservoir. They are a major source of water for Los Angeles. California's snowpack, which generally provides about a third of the state's water, is at its lowest level on record. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Kids have enjoyed a good frolic in a sea of plastic balls for decades. Now ball pits have a more practical and potentially game-changing use, and they may even have a hand in curbing California's ongoing historic drought. The Washington Post reports that local municipalities are looking to save their withering reservoirs with an ambitious water-quality protection project that involves dumping thousands of plastic "shade balls" into the water.

Officials at a conference on Tuesday said the effort purports to save the Golden State roughly 300 million gallons of water annually that would normally simply evaporate, according to ABC7.

The idea is that the onslaught of shade balls, which have been poured into three reservoirs thus far, will provide some much-needed shade for the state's limited reservoirs. The shade balls keep the sunlight off the surface water and limit evaporation. As a bonus, the shade balls also stop a reaction between the chlorine present in the reservoirs and sunlight that results in bromate, which experts believe is a carcinogen. The shade balls also shield the water from dust. 

At the sound of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's call for "shade balls away!" local officials dumped 20,000 shade balls into the Los Angeles Reservoir on Monday. L.A. is the first city in the country to utilize the shade balls, which will last for roughly 10 years. "Shade balls are a great example of how engineering meets common sense," according to Marcie Edwards, a general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The Environmental Protection Agency is insisting that all reservoirs be turned into shade ball pits in the state, and it looks promising thus far. What was initially thought to be a $300 million project to cover the Los Angeles Reservoir, located at the Van Norman Complex in Sylmar, cost just a little over 11 percent of the estimated cost, at $35 million. The low cost is partially due to the fact that each ball costs 36 cents to make and requires no additional construction or maintenance. 

Who knew that throwing shade (balls) could be so effective?