Why An Emerging Water Crisis Will Put Your Data At Risk

A water crisis emerging in the US, and whether you realize it or not, consequently, your information stored in data centers may be at risk.

By Joseph Farago | Published

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The ongoing water crisis in California and out west has put many communities, animals, and environments in danger. But, it also has tangential effects on our relationship to technology. Here’s how constructing data centers could exacerbate America’s extensive droughts and water issues.

Data centers have become crucial parts of technological businesses around the world. Their essential function is to provide a designated space where a business’s entire IT functions occur, including data storage and processing. Though data centers can help a company handle online records and other computer-related tasks, these constructions utilize excessive electricity and energy. In a time when the west coast is attempting to preserve energy before an impending heatwave, data centers make conserving electricity extremely difficult to accomplish.

Alongside general electricity, data centers need tons of water to run their facilities. These buildings require water and cooling systems to prevent the centers from overheating, which is a definite problem amid a water crisis. People are just starting to notice how excessively data centers utilize water through cooling systems and how they leave behind ample amounts of waste in the process. Cooling systems that convert water to electricity for these large office buildings make a byproduct called wastewater, which is salty and needs sanitation treatment. Local utilities must handle the salty wastewater called blowdown, which can damage the structures or surrounding environment if left untreated.

As the world becomes more virtual, more data centers have begun to pop up. The increasing number of IT buildings alongside a water crisis is unfortunate timing since these centers need massive water systems to prevent overheating. 20% of data centers in the United States rely on huge watersheds, which are already under immense pressure from the ongoing heatwaves and droughts. The reliance on such a finite resource has left many to worry about how these IT buildings will be able to keep running if energy isn’t adequately conserved.

Though this water crisis threatens the longevity of businesses nationwide, few companies are coming forward about the issue or how they intend to navigate it. Out of 122 businesses, a Sustainalytics study found that only 16% had disclosed plans to mitigate the drought issues. The rest of the companies had no available information about how they would power their buildings without the watersheds. As data centers become more popular for large businesses to store their essential information, a solution will have to be found to soften their reliance on water-cooling systems.

One of the reasons data centers turn to water usage instead of electricity is that using watersheds is less expensive. Data centers also use a considerable amount of power from power plants, which also need consistent water flow to keep their operations running. In both cases, water is necessary to maintain functionality, which is a finite resource currently in the west.

In the United States, more than 2,5000 data centers are in operation today. A standard-sized data center consumes around 300,000 gallons of water daily, a thousand times more than the average US family. The excessive water usage for these buildings has made the impending water crisis even more concerning for locals on the west coast.