It looks like a child’s dream come true, millions of plastic balls, the ultimate playground pit, but these floating balls are on a mission—saving California’s dwindling water supply.
California has been suffering from its worst drought in recorded history. Upon entering its fifth year, California Governor Brown declared a state of emergency in January which gave a green light to state officials and regulators to take drastic action in order to protect the state’s limited water supply. For the first time, California instituted mandatory municipal water restrictions. Less punitive measures have also been implemented, such as rebate programs for upgrading toilets and ripping out water-devouring lawns.
Floating balls are not a new concept. They are the brainchild of Dr. Brian White, a former biologist. Dr. White was inspired by the use of floating balls, referred to then as “bird balls,” that were released into ponds and other waterways near to airports. The balls would deter waterfowl and reduce the number of birds flying into airplanes.
According to Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, California’s drought required a gargantuan effort, “bold ingenuity.” This $34.5 million floating black balls initiative is just such an effort. The latest batch of 20,000 floating balls were released into the 175-acre Los Angeles reservoir on August 11, 2015 bringing the total to 96 million of these plastic balls floating in the reservoir.
The floating balls are primarily focused on preventing evaporation, which is important because not only is California seeing a record drought, but temperatures have been warming up over the past 30 years, meaning that water is evaporating more quickly. The floating balls also slow down the growth of algae, which results in cleaner water. City officials believe the plastic balls will save the city roughly 300 million gallons of water annually. The floating balls are environmentally friendly—they do not release chemicals, are recyclable and should live at least ten years before needing to be replaced. And to top it off, each floating ball costs around 36 cents.
It is not the final answer to California’s epic drought. Efforts are underway to desalinize the Pacific Ocean water, which will ultimately be the only long-term answer. But, in the meantime, these floating shade balls are doing their part to help California hold steady in its battle against the impact of this serious drought.