It seems that there are reports about the dire water conditions of the Southwest United States at least once a month. Each state is vying for more water use to support their agriculture, domestic, and power needs. Water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell have dropped enormously and evidence of this can be readily seen in comparison pictures by journalist John Fleck. Nice graphics of the water in the west can be seen at Dean Farrell’s site too.
But the states are moving to ensure that they will have water now and for the future. While there may be water shortages that require Arizona and Nevada to enforce water saving measures similar to California, they have been outlining plans based on past legislation:
- California: due to deals made as far back as 1968 California will get the water it needs in the event of a water shortage, which is now very real.
- Nevada (Las Vegas): The city has known that the cost of water is going up while the availability is going to go down and it has cut back its water useage by about 30% over the last 10 years. The water authority has also been installing a new intake system that has an inlet at a lower elevation in Lake Mead.
- Arizona: The state has plans to pump water to Phoenix and to the agriculture while cutting back elsewhere, such as delaying replenishing the groundwater reserviors.
Many have wondered how this will affect the data center industry, as much of the cooling is done evaporatively with water. Currently the impact has been to operational costs. Water costs money, and with conditions expected to plateau or increase over the next 30 years those costs are only going to increase. Although we might not see the results now the impact of a megadrought, a desert-like drought lasting decades, could shut doors on businesses throughout the Southwest just to save water.
Cooling towers, the need for most of the data center water, may have a mandatory minimum of six cycles of concentration, a big step up from the typical two. Scaling and fouling of equipment then becomes a challenge of facilities operators, likely via filtration and higher levels of chemical treatment. Another impact to this operation is that more cooling tower water will need to come from non-potable (greywater or similar) sources. These considerations all play into the reliability of the data center facility as well as the operational cost.