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NSA paying for water it's not using at Utah Data Center

Published April 29, 2014 7:30 am

Records • It could be evidence the data center in Bluffdale is not operating at anticipated capacity.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The National Security Agency's Utah Data Center has been paying for water it's leaving in the tap.

A review of the data center's recently released water bill shows that since at least July, the NSA has been paying its mandatory minimum bill. In July, the NSA paid Bluffdale $28,596 for 6.2 million gallons of water.

The water usage declined after that, but the NSA kept paying $28,596 every month through the end of 2013.

At the start of 2014, the NSA's contract with Bluffdale increased the minimum payment to $31,692. The NSA paid that amount in January for 4.8 million gallons of water and in February for 2.7 million gallons of water.

"They could use a lot more water and pay the same amount," Bluffdale City Manager Mark Reid said Monday.

The water bill is further evidence the Utah Data Center is not operating at anticipated capacity. The Wall Street Journal reported in October the facility was suffering from electrical problems, delaying full-scale operation. The NSA has refused to discuss the status of the Utah Data Center, even to say if it's operational.

Water is essential to help cool the facility and computing components for the center, a massive digital storage hub for the NSA and other intelligence agencies.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineer plans called for the center to use 1.7 million gallons a day. Bluffdale City Council minutes indicate that figure was later reduced to 1.2 million gallons a day.

Bluffdale built a $3 million water-delivery system for the center. To ensure it would be able to repay the bond, the city required minimum monthly payments — called "take or pay" — from the NSA. But the contract assumes the NSA will exceed those minimums, at which point Bluffdale begins charging the NSA at a rate that currently amounts to $2.05 per 1,000 gallons.

The version of the contract between the NSA and Bluffdale released by the city redacts the planned amounts of the minimum payments and the Utah Data Center's projected water usage. It's unclear how much more water the NSA could receive with the minimum payment.

Reid confirmed only the minimum payments have been made since July.

"If they used more water than they contracted for, then we would charge them based on the tier rate," Reid said. "But they're not using enough water" to merit more charges."

The NSA paid Bluffdale $603,095 for water from November 2011 through February of this year, according to city records obtained through an open-records request.

Reid said the monthly minimum payments increase every year because Bluffdale's bond payments go up every year.

Officials at the NSA did not reply to a request for comment Monday.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle —

NSA water usage

Month 1K Gallons Bill

Jan 2012 3,811 $31,974.13

Feb 900 $19,477.79

Mar 895 $19,486.94

April 1,212 $18,906.69

May 2,109 $17,265.18

June 1,590 $18,214.95

July 1,974 $17,512.23

Aug 2,487 $16,573.44

Sept 2,112 $17,545.79

Oct 1,919 $17,920.21

Nov 1,152 $19,408.34

Dec 890 $19,916.47

Jan 2013 1,326 $19,045.65

Feb 761 $26,255.95

Mar 1,538 $24,748.57

April 2,104 $23,650.53

May 3,029 $12,500.00

June 4,221 $27,732.29

July 6,200 $28,596.60

Aug 5,018 $28,596.00

Sept 4,202 $28,596.00

Oct 2,562 $28,596.00

Nov 2,718 $28,596.00

Dec 3,849 $28,596.00

Jan 2014 4,851 $31,692.10

Feb 2,799 $31,692.10

$603,095.95