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Google Request Exacerbates South Carolina Water Wars

Google has requested 1.5 million gallons of groundwater per day to cool the servers at its Berkeley County facility, hoping to draw the water from the county’s aquifer. The company already uses about 4 million gallons of surface water per day, writes the Post & Courier (via Mashable). Google has studied various options for cooling its servers and has found that pumping groundwater was the best solution.

The request comes at a time when a commercial boom in the area has led to companies (and residents) using water at a faster rate than the aquifers can replenish. Scientists are currently studying the area’s water situation, attempting to determine how much water from the aquifers can be used before depleting supplies of groundwater.

Tech companies that operate large data centers are putting a great deal of focus on water and energy use. Data centers used about 165 billion gallons of water to cool their servers and for the energy to power their facilities. That number is expected to rise to about 174 billion gallons in 2020, according to figures from the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.


Companies that don’t plan for the long-term when it comes to water risks are playing defense rather than offense, Josh Henretig*, senior director of environmental sustainability at Microsoft, told Environmental Leader last week. “They’re not able to make smart investments in new technologies and in mitigation efforts that would move production from one facility to another. They’re putting their brands and their reputations at risk.”

Microsoft has recently increased its focus on water use for its data centers. The company examines where water scarcity issues exist, where the company operates, the costs associated with water withdrawal, the risk-adjusted prices for water based on the availability and the quality of water at those specific sites, Henretig said. For example, a Microsoft data center in San Antonio, Texas, still relied on cooling towers which largely depend on water. By evaluating water use in that location, the company realized it had critical operations in a water-stressed region. And looking at the cost of water for that facility, the company made the decision to invest more deeply in new technology to save water.

That led to a direct investment in the data center, from water meters to other technologies, in order to make better use of recycled water. It resulted in a $140,000-a-year cost savings, and a 58-million-gallon avoidance of fresh water use at that data center per year.

* Note: Henretig will be speaking on this topic at the Environmental Leader 2017 Conference in June.


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