Editor column: Tribune, Bluffdale debate release of NSA water records

By Lisa Carricaburu

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: March 14, 2014 09:36PM
Updated: March 20, 2014 06:10PM
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Lisa Carricaburu

The National Security Agency and its controversial intelligence-gathering practices are under a microscope these days, and The Salt Lake Tribune follows each development closely.

The story is important to all Americans, but in Utah, it takes on added significance as Bluffdale is home to the NSA’s massive Utah Data Center.

We cover the center because the top-secret work in which it’s involved can have global implications.

But we also cover it for its unique impact on our state in terms of infrastructure, economic development and employment.

The pursuit of one intensely local NSA story has military and national security reporter Nate Carlisle engaged in a public records dispute with Bluffdale over his attempt to obtain records from the city that would reveal how much water the Utah Data Center uses.

Bluffdale denied the request Carlisle made in December under the Government Records Access and Management Act, citing a state statute prohibiting the release of records that “ jeopardize the security of governmental property, governmental programs or governmental record-keeping systems from damage, theft, or ... use contrary to law or public policy.”

The city also cited the NSA’s unwillingness to disclose the water records.

Carlisle appealed Bluffdale’s denial of the records to the Utah State Records Committee. On Wednesday, he’ll make his case for why the city is obligated to honor his request.

Put simply, Carlisle will argue the public has a stake, and therefore an interest, in water usage by the data center, projected at one point to be about 1.2 million gallons a day. Utah is the nation’s second most arid state, and water is a precious commodity that demands accounting and transparency, according to his written appeal.

In addition, The Tribune’s reporting revealed the NSA made a deal with Bluffdale to obtain water at a discounted rate. Water-usage information also would lend understanding to how much revenue Bluffdale is receiving from the NSA, another matter of public interest.

Carlisle will argue that the release of the records poses no real threat to national security, and that the NSA’s unwillingness to disclose the records is irrelevant because Bluffdale — not the NSA — created and holds the records.

Bluffdale will argue its case before the records committee as well.

Regardless of the outcome, The Tribune will continue to report on the NSA Utah Data Center and its impact on Utah — and the world.

Lisa Carricaburu is managing editor. Reach her at lisac@sltrib.com or on Twitter: @lcarricaburu.