NSA’s Utah Data Center using less water than thought — so far
Water • Bluffdale center’s consumption has been decreasing, city records show.
Published: April 26, 2014 02:01PM
Updated: April 26, 2014 02:01PM
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Rick Bowmer | The Associated Press This June 6, 2013, photo, shows an aerial view of the cooling units at the NSA's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah. The nation's new billion-dollar epicenter for fighting global cyberthreats sits just south of Salt Lake City, tucked away on a National Guard base at the foot of snow-capped mountains. The long, squat buildings span 1.5 million square feet, and are filled with super-powered computers designed to store massive amounts of information gathered secretly from phone calls and emails.

Bluffdale • The National Security Agency’s Utah Data Center used 6.2 million gallons of water as the summer heat reached its peak last year, according to records its supplier released Friday.

That also coincides with when the NSA was testing the data center’s systems in preparation to bring the facility online. However, water usage plummeted as 2013 went on, according to the records from Bluffdale government.

The records indicate that, at least so far, the Utah Data Center has used far less water than predicted. Planning documents from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the center would use 1.7 million gallons a day. Minutes from a Bluffdale City Council meeting indicated that figure had been reduced to 1.2 million gallons per day.

Whatever the Utah Data Center’s peak water usage will be, it is not expected to reach that figure until its fully operational. The NSA has refused to say even if the Utah Data Center is functioning. NSA officials were not available for comment Friday.

Bluffdale released the records pursuant to a state records request The Salt Lake Tribune filed in December. The water usage records end with the month of November.

The culinary water is primarily used to cool the complex, which is to serve as a huge, digital storage facility for the NSA and other U.S. government intelligence agencies.

The facility was supposed to go online in the fall of 2013. However, the Wall Street Journal reported in October the Utah Data Center was suffering electrical problems that were hampering its opening.

The NSA opposed the disclosure of the water records, citing national security concerns. Bluffdale, citing the NSA’s opposition, denied The Tribune’s requests for the water usage data.

But last month, the state Records Committee ordered Bluffdale to disclose the records. The city’s attorney, Vaughn Pickell, informed The Tribune on Friday the city would not challenge the ruling in state court.

The city provided the records Friday after the newspaper paid $334.95 in fees to settle the request for the water usage records and previous records requests.

Bluffdale also provided a letter from an NSA attorney saying the spy agency still believes federal law prevents the records from disclosure. However, according to the letter, “… the NSA has determined that the public interest in this particular category of information … outweighs the NSA’s need to continue protecting this information.”

The name of the NSA attorney was redacted.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle

Gallons Month-by-month

2012

January • 3.8 million

February • 900,000

March • 895,000

April • 1.2 million

May • 2.1 million

June • 1.5 million

July • 1.9 million

August • 2.4 million

September • 2.1 million

October • 1.9 million

November • 1.1 million

December • 890,000

2013

January • 1.3 million

February • 761,000

March • 1.5 million

April • 2.1 million

May • 3 million

June • 4.2 million

July • 6.2 million

August • 5 million

September • 4.2 million

October • 2.5 million

November • 2.7 million

Source: Bluffdale