FACT CHECK FOXnews.com’s story entitled, “LA ‘black ball’ reservoir rollout potential ‘disaster’ in the making, say experts,” is inaccurate, based on uninformed assumptions


FOXnews.com’s story entitled, “LA ‘black ball’ reservoir rollout potential ‘disaster’ in the making, say experts,” is inaccurate, based on uninformed assumptions


The story by Halley McKay for FOXnews.com posted online on August 20, 2015 is laden with factual errors and uninformed assumptions about LA’s sophisticated drinking water system. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) wants everyone to know that these arguments and quotes from FOX’s selected so-called water experts about our use of shade balls are wrong, invalid and based on uninformed opinions. LADWP has successfully implemented these shade balls in four reservoirs in its system in the last eight years, all without experiencing these purported issues and bizarre theories.

Marty Adams, LADWP’s Senior Assistant General Manager of the Water System, said, “These ‘doom and gloom’ theories are nonsense, and quite frankly, flat out wrong. LADWP’s water quality strategies and investments in our water infrastructure all ensure that we serve the highest quality, most reliable drinking to our customers. Each of the processes that we implement is backed by actual nationally-recognized authorities in the industry such at the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). They are the experts and determine the appropriate standards in this field.”

LADWP’s decision to use shade balls at Los Angeles Reservoir will help the utility comply with the US EPA’s Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule (Stage 2 DBP Rule), and not the Long-Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule to which FOX incorrectly attributed the step. The shade balls are used to address bromate, a byproduct of LADWP’s ozonation process in its LA Aqueduct Filtration Plant—another US EPA-mandated process. Chlorinated water containing high levels of bromide, when exposed to the sunlight in an open reservoir, results in a natural reaction that produces bromate.  The sunlight also promotes algal blooms which then have to be treated with chlorine. To address this issue, LADWP deployed 96 million shade balls to cover the expanse of the 175-acre reservoir. It is important the utility balance the bromate reaction to protect the quality of the drinking water we serve.

US EPA’s Long-Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule still applies to LADWP which has  a compliance agreement date of 2021. This is the rule that requires LADWP to cover, bypass or treat the water from our open reservoirs. We will meet this rule with the construction of the second Ultraviolet Disinfection Plant that will treat the water delivered from LA Reservoir for microscopic pathogens Giardia and Cryptosporidium. This is expected to be completed and online by November 2019.

As for the issue of thermal heating and bacteria, LADWP’s daily water quality monitoring and maintenance operations have found neither abnormal thermal effects nor bacterial breeding in the reservoirs as a result of the use of shade balls.

The “Carbon Black” is a UV stabilizing agent which allows the balls at least 10 years of useful life. The black balls have been approved for contact with  drinking water.  According to the National Sanitation Foundation which has tested and certified the balls for contact with drinking water, the carbon black does indeed make the plastic more thermally, structurally, and chemically stable and resistant to UV degradation. Though the top surface of the shade balls absorb heat, the air in the shade balls act as a four-inch insulation blanket, thereby preventing any heat transfer to the water. Furthermore, the reservoir’s size and depth and flow-thru operations are able to keep the water cool. In fact, our staff has verified that the temperature of the water flowing out of LA Reservoir is half a degree cooler than the water that goes into it after filtration and UV disinfection.

To address concerns about possible bacterial reactions, note that LADWP implements disinfectants in its water during filtration, treatment, in reservoir storage and again after it leaves the reservoir. Our water quality monitoring is vigorous and we constantly track for any abnormalities.

While speculations continue regarding the safety of the plastic used for these shade balls, LADWP asserts that the plastic is food grade and brings no known issues for health and safety. As a matter of fact, we use the same plastic for water pipes, and they too are authorized for safe usage by the correct nationally recognized authorities. Furthermore, LADWP has tested the water for this type of plastic for the following endocrine disruptor compounds and chemicals, and none were detected:

  1. Alachlor
  2. Atrazine
  3. Benzo(a)pyrene
  4. Benzylbutylphthalate
  5. Di(2-ethylhexyl)adipate
  6. Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate
  7. Di-n-butylphthalate
  8. Di-n-octylphthalate
  9. Diethylphthalate
  10. Dimethylphthalate
  11. Molinate
  12. Simazine
  13. Thiobencarb
  14. Pentachlorophenol
  15. Phenol
  16. Cadmium
  17. Chloroform
  18. Dibromochloropropane(DBCP)
  19. Dibromomethane
  20. Bisphenol-A
  21. Mercury
  22. Organic solvents
  23. Pesticides
  24. Refrigerant
  25. Biocide
  26. Heavy Metals
  27. Organics in plastic production
  28. Fire/Flame retardants
  29. Organics in PVC production
  30. Organics in production of dyes
  31. Gasoline additives

LADWP firmly upholds that the shade balls are an important water quality tool that is safe to use in our drinking water system. Their implementation has always been for water quality protection with other benefits such as water conservation and cost savings for our rate payers—all just as important to our core objectives as an organization. Today, LA’s drinking water consistently meets or is better than all drinking water standards for water quality, and we intend to continue this success. 

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