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California

The 36-cent ‘shade ball’ that could save $250 million and keep L.A. water clean

Shade balls

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti releases 20,000 “shade balls” into the Los Angeles Reservoir on Monday.

(Jay L. Clenenin / Los Angeles Times)

Can 96 million balls improve water quality?

Los Angeles is about to find out. On Monday, Mayor Eric Garcetti was at the Los Angeles Reservoir to mark the addition of 20,000 of the small balls to the lake. 

The Department of Water and Power proclaimed in a statement that it is "the first utility company to use this technology for water quality protection....  The small, black plastic balls protect water quality by preventing sunlight-triggered chemical reactions, deterring birds and other wildlife, and protecting water from rain and wind-blown dust.”

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Some other facts about the balls from the DWP:

-- Each ball comes fully assembled and costs 36 cents.

-- The balls are expected to save $250 million compared to other means to comply with clean-water laws.

-- The balls are also expected to save 300 million gallons of water otherwise lost to evaporation.

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-- The shade balls are designed to last for 10 years. They are made from high-density polyethylene, which is the same material you would find in a 1-gallon milk carton. The balls are OK to come into contact with drinking water. According to the DWP, “they do not emit or leach any chemicals.” However, they will eventually lose their structural integrity and may split in half.

-- Two vendors provided the balls. XavierC LLC (based in Glendora) produced 6.4 million of the balls. Artisan Screen Printing (based on Artisan Screen Printing) provided 89.6 million. Together, the balls cost DWP $34.5 million. That comes to 36 cents apiece.

-- The balls specifically protect the water from chemical reactions that may cause algae to bloom.

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