"The Surging Demand For Data Is Guzzling Virginia’s Water"

"The commonwealth is home to the data center capital of the world. Can it handle AI's thirst?"

"Every email you send has a home. Every uploaded file, web search, and social media post does, too. In massive buildings erected from miles of concrete, stacked servers hum with the electricity required to process and store every byte of information that modern lives rely on.

In recent years, these data centers have been rapidly expanding in the United States. But the gargantuan facilities do more than keep cloud servers running — they also guzzle absurd amounts of water to run cooling systems that protect their components from overheating. Now, as artificial intelligence applications become ubiquitous, they’re using more water than ever.

Northern Virginia is the data center capital of the globe, where more than 300 facilities process nearly 70 percent of the world’s digital information, a job that requires ever more electricity. A utility that serves the area, Dominion Energy, announced during a May 2 earnings call that the industry’s demand for electricity had more than doubled in recent years. The week before that call, Google announced a billion-dollar expansion of three Virginia facilities, following a $35 billion investment by Amazon Web Services in the same area last year. State lawmakers and environmental groups have begun worrying about what this industry boom means for the area’s supply of water.

“Some of these data centers will use resources equivalent to a small city for energy and water,” said Ann Bennett, chair of data center issues in the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter. “They are being built on a scale that we just haven’t seen in the past.”"

Sachi Kitajima Mulkey reports for Grist May 8, 2024.

Source: Grist, 05/09/2024