eta, the social technology company that operates Facebook, broke ground on an $800-million data center in Mesa, Arizona, last August that will be the company’s 14th in the United States. Such facilities are usually big consumers of water for cooling and electricity generation, and Mesa is in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Elsewhere that might be a problem. But between Meta’s commitment to powering its data centers with 100% renewable energy, the 1980 Groundwater Management Act and the Assured Water Supply program that requires new development in Arizona to prove they have a 100-year water supply, and energy providers like Salt River Project (SRP) that carefully manage the Phoenix metro’s water resources, Meta’s new data center will have no impact on water supply.
In fact, it plans to restore more water than it uses.
“Our data centers are designed to be among the most advanced in terms of water use and energy efficiency in the world,” says David Williams, Meta’s community development manager for the Mesa campus. “Our new campus will be 60% more water efficient than the average data center, and it will be LEED Gold certified. And it will be supported by 100% renewable energy.”
In addition to investing in three water restoration projects, Meta is partnering with SRP to bring 450 megawatts of solar energy to the local grid. “As you look at these types of renewable energy projects, they save hundreds of millions of gallons of water per year versus getting the same amount of energy from fossil fuel sources,” notes Williams. The three water restoration projects will help restore over 200 million gallons of water per year across both the Colorado River and the Salt River basins. “This helps give greater water security and flexibility to the entire state,” he adds. “We look at water restoration as restoring and maintaining an ample and healthy watershed. We partner with trusted and local environmental nonprofits here in Arizona, and they help us identify projects that specifically help address conservation, ecosystem restoration, water access and sanitation.”
Williams says water used on the campus will be recycled several times before discharging it back to the local municipality, which can then re-treat it and distribute it for irrigation purposes. “One of the big reasons Mesa stood out for us is that for more than half the year we can take air from outside to help cool our servers in lieu of continual water use.”
Proactive Water Management
Water availability is an increasingly critical site location factor everywhere, but even more so in regions like the Southwest that are prone to droughts.
“When any new development comes into Arizona now, water is more and more the top question that gets asked — where is the water supply coming from and how secure is it and is it available?” says Colette Moore, principal water planning analyst at SRP. “The perception is that we’re in a desert and there is no water. That’s not how it works here in Phoenix. It can be a tough conversation sometimes to encourage conservation while allowing development, but we’ve been planning for this. Arizona is using the same amount of water that we did in 1957, and our population and economic development have grown substantially. That’s because we’ve been managing it proactively.”
All the development in Mesa, already existing and planned, has a 100-year water supply, says Moore. “Because data centers are more water intensive than people realize and water demand on the campus site was a little higher than the City anticipated, they asked Meta to bring water with them. That’s where SRP’s partnership with the Gila River Indian community comes into play. They have a very large water rights settlement, part of which is access to a large allocation of Colorado River supply.”
SRP in partnership with the Gila River Indian community created a business called Gila River Water Storage LLC to make water supplies available. Colorado River water can be stored underground and be made available to industry. “That’s the water that Meta was able to purchase,” says Moore. “They purchased long-term storage credits — it’s like a deposit in a bank account. We proactively store the water in areas where we see development coming. We’ve stored some of these credits in the City of Mesa service area. Meta was able to purchase those water credits from us and transfer them to the City of Mesa so that when they need to serve Meta in the future, they can withdraw those credits by using their own infrastructure — their well system — and withdraw those credits that were already in that service area.”
That’s one way SRP works with capital investors to help them meet their sustainability objectives. The bottom line for industry, says Moore, is that Arizona has a strong conservation ethic and is on top of the water management issue. “We have always planned with water in mind first,” she notes. “SRP was founded in 1903, so we’ve been doing this for a while.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of Salt River Project.
For more information, go to PowertogrowPHX.com.
Mark Arend has been editor in chief of Site Selection magazine since 2001. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.