California's water problem is severe. Despite 2016 seeing a distinct improvement in precipitation over previous years, to almost average levels in many areas, much of the state is in extreme drought. As well as ordering mandatory water reductions, the state has also been looking to other solutions.
"Shade balls," the 4-inch wide black plastic balls pictured above blanketing Los Angeles Reservoir, have been touted as one of those solutions. But they're not. The primary purpose of the release, which went viral last year, was to obey Federal rules on covering drinking water. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) had previously used the balls in smaller reservoirs, and in the case of the Los Angeles Reservoir, says the balls helped the department save more than $250 million over installing a more permanent cover.
Although they were released to headlines like Shade Balls in Los Angeles Reservoir to Save 300 Million Gallons of Water Annually, the main benefit of the balls is to prevent sunlight from reacting with the chlorine-treated water and naturally occurring bromide to create the possible carcinogen bromate. The shade balls aren't a complete solution, and there are accusations that they may deteriorate and release dangerous chemicals into the water. The water in the Los Angeles Reservoir, however, goes through a UV treatment process before it makes its way to citizens.