Tech Industry, Data Centers Are Sucking California Dry

Arid California is home to some 800 data centers, many of which consume millions of gallons of water each year.

by / July 20, 2015

California is running out of water, but its water-hungry technology industry is booming. NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti predicted in March that the state only has about one year's worth of water in reservoir storage, and its groundwater also is running low. Many of the state’s 800 data centers need water to cool equipment, and each one uses about 3.5 million gallons of water per megawatt of power annually, according to a report from The Guardian.

The report suggests that California data centers have taken to using water cooling because the power usage effectiveness benchmark (PUE) used by the industry does not account for water consumption.

Amid prayers for rain, the state has imposed restrictions on water use; new devices to regulate water usage have been developed; and new technologies lend transparency to the state’s dwindling supply. Some water departments may raise their rates in coming months, according to SF Gate.

Some data centers, like three Vantage Data Centers facilities in Santa Clara, are adopting air cooling devices to reduce reliance on water-cooling. The facilities monitor temperature, humidity and dew point to identify when the conditions are right to begin pulling in air from outside.

Broader temperature ranges for modern computer equipment may also reduce cooling costs. Water cooling, however, remains an effective and affordable method for keeping data centers cool, but if it doesn’t rain (heavily) soon, California may be faced with some difficult choices.