California prides itself on being the global hub for tech innovation, and it has been aiming to accelerate use of cutting-edge technology to face its historic drought. However, in the first year since California’s governor declared a state of emergency as a result of the drought, most of its cash has been spent on non-tech solutions. In Southern California alone, the Metropolitan Water District has quadrupled its budget to $450M this year for lawn turf replacement. So far, innovative start-ups aren’t applying advanced science and engineering, but rather spraying green paint to cover brown lawns.
California’s programs are looking for ways to change basic practices to permanently replace big water uses. Turf replacement programs “lock-in permanent changes in water use by transforming to drought-tolerant landscapes that better fit our Mediterranean climate,” said Metropolitan board Chairman Randy Record, Chairman of Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District.
As corporations in California face the drought crisis, new technologies for data center cooling offer an opportunity for them to migrate away from water-intensive cooling. Every new data center brings a thirsty customer. A midsize 15-megawatt center uses between 80 million and 130 million gallons of water a year for cooling, according to industry estimates “At the high end of that range, each new facility is akin to planting 100 acres of almond trees, adding three hospitals or opening more than two 18-hole golf courses,” notes Drew Fitzgerald of the Wall Street Journal. California has more than 800 data centers, the most of any state, according to an estimate by tech consultancy 451 Research LLC that excludes smaller computer rooms that businesses use. Based on that and estimates for water use, the state’s data centers consume roughly as much water in a year as 158,000 Olympic sized swimming pools.
Even with their substantial growth over the last few years, data centers still use less than 1% of the water in California, as compared with 80% used by agriculture. At the same time, subsidizing migration away from water cooling data centers offers California a way to reduce water use right now, and save millions of gallons over the years to come.