LA Mayor: Thirsty California Needs Cool Black Balls

Expert: Balls a ‘disaster’

Black shade balls (screenshot)

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan to slow California’s drought by covering a reservoir with 96 million "shade balls" is sparking debate among experts, who say that the black balls could lead to disaster.

According to Fox News, Garcetti said that the balls, which cost $34.5 million, would block the evaporation of 300 million gallons of reservoir water. The plan is projected to save taxpayers $250 million.

Despite the projected savings, experts have dubbed the balls a "disaster."

Matt MacLeod, founder of the California biotech firm Modern Moon Farms, said that the black color of the balls would create a "bacterial nightmare."

"Black spheres resting in the hot sun will form a thermal blanket speeding evaporation as well as providing a huge amount of new surface area for the hot water to breed bacteria," said MacLeod.

Nathan Krekula, a biologist, said that the balls would cause evaporation by absorbing heat and transferring it to the water. He agreed with MacLeod, saying that the black balls will create a "dark, warm, and moist environment" that will only breed bacteria.

"What works in [a] backyard fish pond does not always transfer to large scale system such as this," Krekula said. "Keeping the balls clean when covered in bacteria and mold slime will be a monumental task."

Robert Shibatani, a hydrologist for an environmental firm specializing in water resources, The Shibatani Group, said that a chrome surface would best prevent evaporation by the sun. "The worst [surface] would be matte black, which has a reflectivity close to zero," he said.

Experts also said that the mayor’s focus on evaporation is a cover for the need to comply with the EPA.

Fox News reports:

Dennis Santiago, a risk analyst for Torrance-based Total Bank Solutions, suspects the real goal for the black-ball cover is to avoid steep Environmental Protection Agency fines. The federal agency’s "Long-Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule," announced in 2006, would require public and private water utilities to spend billions to cover open-air reservoirs that hold treated water to prevent contamination. Officials in several districts around the nation have balked at the EPA mandate, notably in New York, where lawmakers are fighting to block a $1.6 billion concrete cover the EPA has ordered built over a Yonkers reservoir.

"This is not about evaporation," Santiago said. "The water savings spin is purely political. What the black balls are really about is that [Los Angeles] needs to stay in-compliance with an EPA requirement to place a physical cover over potable water reservoirs."

Gracetti’s office did note that the ball covering provides a "cost-effective investment that brings the LA Reservoir into compliance with new federal water quality mandates," but its emphasis on blocking evaporation was the clear focus at the event. Los Angeles Department of Water spokesman Albert Rodriguez told FoxNews.com the city has plenty of time to get in compliance with the EPA.

The Los Angeles Department of Water previously used the shade balls in 2008 when high levels of bromate were discovered in Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs.