Facebook uses 4.1M gallons of water annually

Aug 10, 2012

Bend Bulletin

Facebook uses 4.1M gallons of water annually By Joel Aschbrenner / The Bulletin

Facebook is using about 4.1 million gallons of water a year at its Prineville data center, according to figures released Thursday.

The water feeds a complex evaporation system to cool the 333,400-square-foot server farm, according to a Facebook report on the efficiency of its water usage.

By comparison, the city of Prineville used 495 million gallons of water in 2010, said city engineer Eric Klann.

The data center consumes about the same amount of water as 41 homes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate for average residential water use.

Facebook’s relatively minimal water consumption shows why tech companies are lining up to build in Prineville, Klann said. The area’s cool temperatures and dry weather limit the costs of cooling the data centers.

When companies first began looking to build data centers in Prineville, they estimated they would need 800 gallons a minute to cool their servers, Klann said. But Facebook’s Prineville data center, benefiting from an efficient design and the cool climate, contracts for only 100 gallons a minute from the city.

While Facebook is hooked to the city’s water system, most of its water comes from a nearby well, City Manager Steve Forrester said.

The city provides water for drinking, restrooms, fire suppression and serves as a backup, Forrester said. If Facebook’s well ran dry tomorrow, the city could supply the water needed for the cooling system, he said.

“Even though they have their own well, they would not have built that facility if that was their only source of water," he said. “They wanted a redundant water supply."

Prineville has become a hub for data centers. Apple is building one there and Facebook is building a second. City and county officials are in the process of redrawing the urban growth boundary to open up more industrial land in hopes of luring another data center.

Apple will use city water for its data center, but Forrester said he could not say how much. Facebook’s second facility, like its first, will use only minimal city water, he said.

Prineville officials have welcomed the data centers, but say they are putting more demand on the city’s short supply of water, according to Forrester.

The city has ground wells to meet future water demands, but isn’t allowed to pump them just yet. The wells pull water from the same aquifer that feeds the nearby Crooked River, and the city is required to replace any water it pumps with additional water in the river.

City officials are backing legislation — introduced last week by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. — that would send more water downriver from the Prineville Reservoir, allowing the city to pump an additional 5,100 acre-feet of water each year.

The bill would also allocate water in the river for fish, allow the construction of a hydroelectric project and guarantee some water for irrigators.

Forrester said the legislation will ensure Prineville has enough water to support new data centers.

In a report the company released last week, Facebook said its Prineville data center uses 71 million kilowatt hours a year. That’s enough to power about 6,175 homes, according U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The Prineville facility accounts for about 13 percent of Facebook’s total energy use, according to the report.

— Reporter: 541-633-2184, jaschbrenner@bendbulletin.com

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