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Millions of ‘Shade Balls’ Released into LA Water Supply to Protect From Drought

After being plagued with four years of severe drought, the city of Los Angeles has adopted a new way to protect their dwindling water supply; millions of plastic “shade” balls. The Christian Science Monitor reports that this initiative is part of a $32.5 million project launched seven years ago to help protect the county’s water quality.

These shade balls are black, plastic spheres that have been partially filled with water.
Time explains how the balls work. The balls cover three reservoirs in the Los Angeles area, protecting the water by reducing its surface area. They are covered in a surface that is resistant to heat, and prevents the production of harmful life forms such as algae. Each ball is expected to last at least 10 years, and to have minimal affect on the environment. CNBC reports that the idea was originally developed by a former biologist in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, who used a similar design to keep birds from landing in ponds near airplane runways.

”For many years, there’s always been a trade off,” says Sally Thompson, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. “How do you maximize the security of the water when it comes to health risks, while minimizing the chemical by-products you create?”

The shade balls cost 36 cents each to manufacture.

The four-year drought has also affected the California landscaping industry, which has struggled for business. In the U.S., the landscaping industry generates an estimated $74 billion annually. Since the drought, landscaping requests in the area have sharply declined, making it difficult for those in the industry to make a steady salary. The drought has also affected other industries, such as food service, and has lead to an overall decrease in tourism.

The 96 million shade balls in the Los Angeles reservoir are estimated to save 300 million gallons of water, which is enough to provide drinking water for 8,100 people for an entire year.

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