Apple will pay for Prineville water storage to meet data centers’ enormous thirst

Dec 19, 2018

Bend Bulletin

Apple will pay for Prineville water storage to meet data centers’ enormous thirst

The data center has put pressure on the area’s water supply, and the underground facility will help ease that pressure


BY MIKE ROGOWAY

Amid massive thirst from its Central Oregon data centers, and other strains on regional water supplies, Apple said Wednesday it will spend $8.7 million to help the city of Prineville build an underground water storage facility.

It’s the company’s second water conservation project in Prineville, reflecting the tight water supply in the High Desert and its own growing demands.

Apple is Prineville’s largest water user: Its first data center consumed 27 million gallons of water in 2016, based on the most recent data available, and the company has added a second large facility since then.

Prineville, with just over 10,000 residents, produces 600 million gallons annually.

The city could not say Wednesday how much water Apple used last year, but it could be approaching 10 percent of Prineville’s total production.

Data centers use huge volumes of water to cool their facilities, which are packed with hardworking computers in constant danger of overheating.

The project announced Wednesday will collect water in natural underground geologic formations during cool periods and when river levels are high, then tap it when needed. It will serve both Apple data centers and Prineville’s general needs.

Lisa Jackson, the Apple vice president who runs the company’s environmental initiatives, said the Prineville project will support the company’s own needs “while increasing the availability of clean, sustainable water as the community prepares for the impacts of climate change.”

Prineville currently gets all its water from deep wells. This project will bring water up from shallow wells, too, storing them in an aquifer near Apple’s data center when demand is low and tapping them when demand rises in the summer heat.

The new aquifers will be available beginning in 2021. Prineville said it has been studying the project for five years and believes it could store as much as 180 million gallons initially, and up to 400 million gallons with additional wells.

Prineville did not respond to a question seeking Apple’s current annual water use.

In 2016, Apple financed construction of a water treatment facility designed to save 5 million gallons annually by recycling water from the city’s sewage treatment system and using it in the data center.

Apple has spent $1 billion building its 660,000-square-foot Prineville facilities and is in the process of expanding by 50 percent.

Its data centers employ 100 people altogether, according to Apple, which says it offsets the effects of its power use with nearby solar and wind projects.

Facebook has a large complex of data centers just up the road. It draws water from wells separate from the city’s water system.

Both companies chose Prineville because of low land costs and cool desert night air to chill the data centers’ computers. Above all, Apple and Facebook chose Prineville because of tax breaks that exempt them from most local property taxes.

Crook County records show those tax breaks saved Apple $16.4 million last year and $9 million the year before.

Those tax breaks are mitigated to some degree by franchise fees generated by the data centers’ electricity use, which provide $2 million annually for Prineville’s general fund, accounting for about 4 percent of the city’s budget.

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