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Reservoir ball pit
October 30, 2011 3:10 PM   Subscribe

For millennia, man has yearned to block the sun (with black plastic balls). If an un-covered public water reservoir contains bromide, sunlight will combine the bromide with the chlorine used for reducing bacteria -- thus poisoning the water with carcinogenic bromate. Blocking the sunlight is the answer, but building a permanent cover for a huge reservoir is very costly. The solution for LA-area reservoirs, a few years ago: cover the entire water surface with millions of floating "bird balls", in effect turning the reservoir into a 10+ acre ball pit.

The company that makes the balls switched production over entirely to this monster order, shipping in batches of a few hundred thousand balls at a time (which were to be dumped in as they were received) until the full order of 6 million balls was in. This all began in 2008, but I don't know what the updates are.

more pictures
still more pics
Griffith Park Blog coverage (raises objections about whether the plastic is safe when exposed to heat for long periods)
BloggingLA coverage
posted by LobsterMitten (46 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
still more pics
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:13 PM on October 30, 2011


mmmm...balls.
posted by sexyrobot at 3:14 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obviously a neat solution to the problem. I always wondered if they checked to see what sunlight would do to the balls.
posted by postel's law at 3:25 PM on October 30, 2011


I'm wondering what unforeseen consequences an experiment like this might have. For instance, if the black balls raise the water temperature, then the legacy pipes transmitting the water might leach out more of the materials used to seal them, that hadn't previously come into play.

Also, what kind of life will blossom under these new conditions.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:29 PM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


The article doesn't make this clear, why chlorinate the water when it's in the open reservoir if this is a problem? Couldn't they wait until the water is removed for processing?
posted by indubitable at 3:30 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


But state health officials said the dangers were minimal because bromate poses a small cancer risk only after consumed daily over a lifetime.

Like in a reservoir you drink from daily?
posted by cjorgensen at 3:40 PM on October 30, 2011 [21 favorites]


So has someone tried floating cubes yet?
posted by Fizz at 3:44 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


They should vary the size of the balls in order to improve the packing ratio. The smaller balls could be white, to provide a valuable reservoir of racially-tinged humor during periods of economic uncertainty.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:45 PM on October 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Surely the answer would be to not chlorinate the reservoir. Or chlorinate the water after it has been taken from the reservoir, if you must.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:45 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


So once the covered replacement reservoir is built, what happens to the balls?
posted by localroger at 3:49 PM on October 30, 2011


So once the covered replacement reservoir is built, what happens to the balls?

They're shipped off for that flash game.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:55 PM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


So once the covered replacement reservoir is built, what happens to the balls?

Dibs!
posted by device55 at 3:56 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mmm, BPA.
posted by entropicamericana at 4:01 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


We took our inspiration from nature. In this case, the Great Gyre of Garbage.
posted by benzenedream at 4:06 PM on October 30, 2011


From the manufacturer's website:

When selecting your Plastic Ball Supplier consider that Orange Products:
* Manufactures solid and hollow precision plastic balls in most general purpose and engineering plastics in a broad range of sizes (1/16" - 4"), precise tolerances and surface finishes.
* Has extensive experience selecting and supplying the right plastic ball for your application.
* Manufactures over 600 million precision plastic balls annually in its ISO 9001 : 2000 Certified Plant. Most standard materials and sizes are available from stock.
*Maintains global distribution through an international network of sales agents and distributors. Thank you for visiting our web site and we look forward to satisfying your plastic ball requirements.

posted by 445supermag at 4:14 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Black is the only color strong enough to deflect ultraviolet rays, said Paul Sachdev, president of Orange Products.

Mainstream science reporting never fails to astonish.
posted by underflow at 4:16 PM on October 30, 2011 [21 favorites]


They say the balls are made of high density polyethylene (HDPE) coated with something (paint?) that contains carbon.

another Griffith Park blog on the plastic in the balls
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:18 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


This endeavor evidently takes a lot of balls.

I'll show myself out, thanks.
posted by sinnesloeschen at 4:20 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


underflow,

That makes sense. A substance that absorbs all colors equally is probably more stable than one that prefers some over others.

Though I'm not entirely convinced the balls shouldn't be white.
posted by effugas at 4:22 PM on October 30, 2011


localroger: "So once the covered replacement reservoir is built, what happens to the balls"

That's the brilliant part! When wintertime rolls around, the balls simply freeze to death.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:23 PM on October 30, 2011 [13 favorites]


That's the brilliant part! When wintertime rolls around, the balls simply freeze to death.

Don't be silly, there's no winter in LA.
posted by mollymayhem at 4:28 PM on October 30, 2011


The balls are intended to reflect UV rays, so to first order, it doesn't matter what color they are. That said, in my admittedly limited experience, white plastic turns yellow and brittle in sunlight, and anything I've seen that is UV reflective is black.
posted by dirigibleman at 4:40 PM on October 30, 2011


But that's from2008. There's no balls there now.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:40 PM on October 30, 2011


Really? What happened, Ideefixe?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:43 PM on October 30, 2011


I'm guessing they chlorinate the reservoir since it's standing water. Some gross shit could grow in there.
posted by auto-correct at 4:43 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bromate bad. Metallica gooood!
posted by Chuffy at 4:45 PM on October 30, 2011


I think you can see the black balls on google maps (Ivanhoe is the northernmost part of the reservoir) but who knows how recent the images are.
posted by auto-correct at 4:50 PM on October 30, 2011


How much do they help with evaporation? I understand that's a huge problem with the open aqueducts out there.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:57 PM on October 30, 2011


pics showing the balls still in Ivanhoe reservoir in December 2010 (scroll down about 1/5 of the way down the page)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:01 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's such a cool photo, it reminds me of grain boundaries in crystalline solids.
posted by indubitable at 5:28 PM on October 30, 2011


A) How come LA has a reservoir named "Ivanhoe", which may or may not be the coolest name for a reservoir ever.
B) Given that this is LA, home of something TV something, all they could manage for the momentous ball-dumping event was five still photos? WHAT is this world coming to?
posted by sneebler at 5:31 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think it's just great that we are manufacturing more and more plastic floating things and putting them into water systems.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:35 PM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


tumid dahlia: "I think it's just great that we are manufacturing more and more plastic floating things and putting them into water systems"

I think you mean ONTO water systems
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:51 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to work for a plastic manufacturer, and coloring plastic black was the cheapest way to make stuff UV-resistant and to disguise the color of recycled material. I suspect that the pigment doesn't actually reflect UV: it just absorbs it at the surface and stops it reaching the rest of the plastic. It might also protect the plastic by radiating heat more efficiently. You can buy UV-resistant plastic, but it's a lot more expensive.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:03 PM on October 30, 2011


How is a bunch of tarps too expensive, but a fuckton of custom-made plastic balls not?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:36 PM on October 30, 2011


The balls are a much better solution than a tarp. First of all, it's a reservoir, so that'd have to be one big tarp. Then the area isn't square, so you need to make an irregularly shaped tarp. You'd also have to float or lift it, so that water wouldn't collect on top. Finally, if it tore or ripped, you'd have to reel it in, unfurl it somewhere, and then patch it.

All things avoided by having some balls.
posted by Mercaptan at 8:40 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh and if the water level in the reservoir changed, you'd need the tarp to be bigger or smaller.
posted by Mercaptan at 8:41 PM on October 30, 2011


It's a pretty elegant solution to the problem, honestly. I don't see where the negative reactions are coming from.
posted by Nothing at 8:44 PM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, it's like i stepped into a time warp. I remember this being all over the internet when it happened, which was in 2008.
posted by delmoi at 9:00 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Though I'm not entirely convinced the balls shouldn't be white.

UV degrades polyethylene something fierce though, by using this carbon black colour they minimise that.
posted by atrazine at 10:32 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


LA water, while a marval of modern society having clean drinking water from the tap in a desert, does taste like pool water.
posted by wcfields at 10:33 PM on October 30, 2011


That would have actually been a perfect opportunity to say it tastes like balls.
posted by tumid dahlia at 10:40 PM on October 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


How come LA has a reservoir named "Ivanhoe", which may or may not be the coolest name for a reservoir ever.

I'm not sure how it thematically relates to reservoirs, but Ivanhoe was the name of the surrounding subdivision, whose street names were largely derived from Sir Walter Scott (e.g. Kenilworth, Locksley, Waverly). Oddly enough, the modern name for the neighborhood, and the other reservoir, Silver Lake, derived from a water official whose last name was actually Silver. There was a fascination with the romantic in this era, reflected in its architecture, such as Tudor Revival and English Cottage.
posted by dhartung at 11:00 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is impossible for me to take this thread seriously when there are giant balls involved.

I will show myself out then, shall I?
posted by titantoppler at 2:32 AM on October 31, 2011


One word: Christo
posted by el riesgo sempre vive at 3:59 AM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Forget it, Jake; it's Chuck E. Cheese.
posted by Spatch at 10:28 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


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