Data Centers are Using Too Much Water During Droughts

Huge data centers are using a lot of water to keep warehouses filled with computers cool. This isn’t good for the climate – especially during droughts.

NBC News reported that on May 17, the City Council of Mesa, Arizona, approved the $800 million development of an enormous data center on an arid plot of land in the eastern part of the city.

That data center requires up to 1.25 million gallons of water each day. Mesa is currently experiencing a drought. Data centers like the one in Mesa create relatively few jobs, according to NBC News.

The U.S. also has at least 1,800 “colocation” data centers, warehouses filled with a variety of smaller companies’ server hardware that share the same cooling system, electricity, and security, according to Data Center Map. They are typically smaller than hyper scale data centers but, research has shown, more resource intensive as they maintain a variety of computer systems operating at different levels of efficiency.

The data that NBC News pointed at comes from an environmental research letter posted on IOP Science. The letter is titled: “The environmental footprint of data centers in the United States.” It was published in May of 2021. From the abstract of the letter:

…Our bottom-up approach reveals one-fifth of data center servers direct water footprint comes from moderately to highly stressed watersheds, while nearly half of servers are fully or partially powered by power plants located within water stressed regions. Approximately 0.5% of total US greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to data centers…

The letter offers some suggestions for more environmentally friendly ways data centers can keep cool. Data centers can be located in areas that typically have lower temperatures that would make them easier to cool. Data centers can invest in solar and wind energy (and use that as a coolant instead of water).