Bluffdale to recycle millions of gallons of water used by NSA

Posted at 9:51 PM, May 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-13 11:11:33-04

BLUFFDALE, Utah -- After revelations that the National Security Agency's massive data center uses millions of gallons of water every month, a state lawmaker said he plans to renew legislation to cut off the spy agency's water supply.

FOX 13 recently reported on the NSA's water bill, which shows it uses between two and four million gallons of water a month to cool its data servers. Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, said he plans to renew his bill to cut off material support for the Utah Data Center.

"With the information that has come out in the last couple of years, we know a lot more now than we did then about the activities of the NSA," Roberts said. "So it is concerning. It's here, it's in our backyard."

It's an idea supported by groups like the Libertas Institute.

"The NSA, in a desert, is using massive amounts of water, a very precious resource to Utahns, to Utah and western states," said Josh Daniels, a policy analyst for the Libertarian think tank. "The hogging of water so they can surveil U.S. citizens is just beyond the pale."

According to the Tenth Amendment Center, lawmakers in 14 states are running bills that would cut off material support for NSA facilities in protest of domestic surveillance. Roberts' bill died in the legislature last session, but Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, managed to remove a tax break for the Utah Data Center in a budget bill.

The NSA declined to comment on legislation, calling it a "state matter."

Roberts said bills like his put pressure on the NSA and enact changes, but he acknowledged shutting off the water to the Utah Data Center is an uphill battle.

"That's going to be difficult to do, to be honest," he said.

Meanwhile, the city of Bluffdale is recycling some of the water that is used by the Utah Data Center and watering parks.

"Bluffdale City put together a proposal to the NSA showing them this would be cheaper than the impact fee to the sewer district. We could charge you less per gallon to take it back and we could reuse it," Bluffdale Mayor Derk Timothy told FOX 13.

Timothy said that when the data center was being built, the city laid seven miles of pipe and five million gallons of water storage -- all paid for by the NSA. He confirmed the city is in the midst of building a redundant water line in case of emergencies.

Timothy said at maximum capacity, the Utah Data Center could use as much as 1.2 million gallons of water a day. That water is purchased in shares from the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. The NSA pays about $2 per 1,000 gallons.

Bluffdale built a two million gallon tank to reuse water. Currently, it is being used to water a park outside city hall where soccer fields are set up for youth games. Timothy said the water reclamation will be expanded to include residential lawns and accommodate future growth in the south end of the city.

"Eventually, as more water is returned to us, we'll be able to add residents to the reuse project," he said, adding it could reduce residents' water bills.

The NSA declined to comment on what is done with the water, or Bluffdale's plans to reclaim it. The agency also would not answer questions about whether the facility is fully operational.

Not even the mayor knows.

"I have no idea," he said. "We don't ask that question because they wouldn't even tell us."