Water is a precious resource. Newsweek has a long article on “The New Oil” water.
The New Oil
Should private companies control our most precious natural resource?
Click to view a gallery about how we're losing our lakes.
Sitka, Alaska, is home to one of the world’s most spectacular lakes. Nestled into a U-shaped valley of dense forests and majestic peaks, and fed by snowpack and glaciers, the reservoir, named Blue Lake for its deep blue hues, holds trillions of gallons of water so pure it requires no treatment. The city’s tiny population—fewer than 10,000 people spread across 5,000 square miles—makes this an embarrassment of riches. Every year, as countries around the world struggle to meet the water needs of their citizens, 6.2 billion gallons of Sitka’s reserves go unused. That could soon change. In a few months, if all goes according to plan, 80 million gallons of Blue Lake water will be siphoned into the kind of tankers normally reserved for oil—and shipped to a bulk bottling facility near Mumbai. From there it will be dispersed among several drought-plagued cities throughout the Middle East. The project is the brainchild of two American companies. One, True Alaska Bottling, has purchased the rights to transfer 3 billion gallons of water a year from Sitka’s bountiful reserves. The other, S2C Global, is building the water-processing facility in India. If the companies succeed, they will have brought what Sitka hopes will be a $90 million industry to their city, not to mention a solution to one of the world’s most pressing climate conundrums. They will also have turned life’s most essential molecule into a global commodity.
Lack of water is going to take out more data centers. Think about this.
In the U.S., federal funds for repairing water infrastructure—most of which was built around the same time that Henry Ford built the first Model T—are sorely lacking. The Obama administration has secured just $6 billion for repairs that the EPA estimates will cost $300 billion. Meanwhile, more than half a million pipes burst every year, according to the American Water Works Association, and more than 6 billion gallons of water are lost to leaky pipes. In response to the funding gap, hundreds of U.S. cities—including Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Santa Fe, N.M.—are now looking to privatize. On its face, the move makes obvious sense: elected officials can use the profits from water sales to balance city budgets, while simultaneously offloading the huge cost of repairing and expanding infrastructure—not to mention the politically unpopular necessity of raising water rates to do so—to companies that promise both jobs and economy-stimulating profits.
Of course, the reality doesn’t always meet that ideal. “Because water infrastructure is too expensive to allow multiple providers, the only real competition occurs during the bidding process,” says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the nonprofit, antiprivatization group Food and Water Watch. “After that, the private utility has a virtual monopoly. And because 70 to 80 percent of water and sewer assets are underground, municipalities can have a tough time monitoring a contractor’s performance.” According to some reports, private operators often reduce the workforce, neglect water conservation, and shift the cost of environmental violations onto the city. For example, when two Veolia-operated plants spilled millions of gallons of sewage into San Francisco Bay, at least one city was forced to make multimillion-dollar upgrades to the offending sewage plant. (Veolia has defended its record.)
The smart people are looking to reduce water use in the data center as one of the biggest cost risks and availability issues is water.
If you don’t think water prices will change.
The bottom line is this: that water is essential to life makes it no less expensive to obtain, purify, and deliver, and does nothing to change the fact that as supplies dwindle and demand grows, that expense will only increase. The World Bank has argued that higher prices are a good thing. Right now, no public utility anywhere prices water based on how scarce it is or how much it costs to deliver, and that, privatization proponents argue, is the root cause of such rampant overuse. If water costs more, they say, we will conserve it better.
A green data center needs a low water strategy.