Big Tech Data Centers Compete For Water In Town Bogged Down By Drought
Conflicts over water are as old as history itself, but the massive Google data centers on the edge of this Oregon town on the Columbia River represent an emerging 21st-century concern, Andrew Selsky and Manuel Valdes reported for the Associated Press (AP).
Photo Insert: The Dalles Dam
Now a critical part of modern computing, data centers help people stream movies on Netflix, conduct transactions on PayPal, post updates on Facebook, store trillions of photos, and more.
But a single facility can also churn through millions of gallons of water per day to keep hot-running equipment cool. Google wants to build at least two more data centers in The Dalles, worrying some residents who fear there eventually won’t be enough water for everyone — including for area farms and fruit orchards, which are by far the biggest users.
Across the US, there has been some mild pushback as tech firms build and expand data centers — conflicts likely to grow as water becomes a more precious resource amid the threat of climate change and as the demand for cloud computing grows.
The concerns are understandable in The Dalles, the seat of Wasco County, which is suffering extreme and exceptional drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. The region last summer endured its hottest days on record, reaching 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 Celsius) in The Dalles.
About an hour’s drive east of The Dalles, Amazon is giving back some of the water its massive data centers use. Amazon’s campuses, spread between Boardman and Umatilla, Oregon, butt up against farmland, a cheese factory, and neighborhoods.
They use water primarily in summer, with the servers being air-cooled the rest of the year. About two-thirds of the water Amazon uses evaporates. The rest is treated and sent to irrigation canals that feed crops and pastures.