Utah State Records Committee Orders City Of Bluffdale To Reveal Data On NSA's Water Usage

from the water,-water-everywhere,-and-nary-a-drop-publicly-accounted-for dept

The NSA's new home in Utah is increasingly looking like a bad idea. While local politicians were likely delighted to have a federal money funnel set up shop in state, that initial euphoria has faded in the wake of the Snowden leaks.

Multiple legislative attempts have been mounted by various states to basically nullify the NSA's programs, either directly or indirectly. In Utah, the leverage point has been the public utilities. There is no doubt that the NSA's new data center consumes massive amounts of electricity. But it also goes through water like… water. Not much is known about how much the data center uses (estimates place it at about 1.2 million gallons a day), but one fact that has emerged so far is that the NSA is paying far less ($2.05 vs. $3.35) per thousand gallons than other high-volume businesses.

The Tenth Amendment Center has been pushing for the adoption of legislation aimed at cutting off public support (meaning "public utilities") for the NSA's domestic surveillance programs. While this legislative battle has been moving forward, attempts to gain more insight into the NSA's utility usage have been stonewalled by both the City of Bluffdale and the NSA itself.

Fortunately, the state has stepped up and ordered Bluffdale to release the NSA's water usage records.

This month, the Utah State Records Committee ruled that the City of Bluffdale must release water records pertaining to the massive NSA data center located there.

Salt Lake City Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle pursued the information, and his success shows how a series of small, seemingly insignificant actions can lead to a major victory.

The committee voted unanimously to require the city to make details of the NSA’s water use public last week.
The City of Bluffdale was a major combatant, insisting on collecting a $45/hour fee for compiling responsive documents. All told, the total stood at $767.45 when the reporter brought this to the attention of the State Records Committee.

The agency itself was no better. It refused to release info on its water usage by relying on the same excuse it uses for everything: terrorism.
By computing the water usage rate, one could ultimately determine the computing power and capabilities of the Utah Data Center. Armed with this information, one could then deduce how much intelligence NSA is collecting and maintaining, and this clearly relates to one of NSA's core missions, which is the collection of foreign intelligence.
Robert McMillan at Wired calls bullshit on this argument.
The reality is that Sherman's argument requires a pretty big leap of logic. Data center engineers can get rough ideas of compute power based on how much power a building consumes, but figuring this out on water is another matter. Some data centers, like Facebook's facility in Prineville, Oregon, use custom-made swamp coolers to mist the air and cool down servers. Others push hot air into evaporative cooling towers, which are kept cold by running water.

"There are many different ways to cool a data center," says Jonathan Koomey, a research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University."Without knowing more about the actual facility then I don't think anyone's going to give you solid [computing capability] numbers."
Without access to all of this water, the NSA's shiny new home can't function. That it consumes over a million gallons a day (at least) should be of concern to Utah's residents, especially considering the ongoing water management issues the state is facing. Early in 2013, water experts met to discuss the problems inherent in the nation's second-driest state -- one which also sports the nation's highest birth rate.

Among the many suggestions were removing the tax subsidies from water that kept prices artificially low and starting to meter secondary usage. Nowhere in the discussion was a suggestion to funnel 400+ million gallons a year into a surveillance agency's data center.

This cut rate on top of an already artificially low water price would explain the attractiveness of the locale to the NSA, but in the end, it's the rest of Utah's citizens who will be screwed. When its water usage details are finally revealed, one can safely expect there to be more public support for the Tenth Amendment Center's attempt to literally drain the agency of resources.

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  1. icon
    terry_allen (profile), 2 Apr 2014 @ 7:36am

    or here's a thought...

    In a dry state, why doesn't the NSA recycle the cooling water through underground pipes?

    Oh, wait, silly me. Then the terrorists would simply monitor the NSA's purchases of antibiotics to kill Legionella outbreaks.

    Darn those all-powerful terrorists! They make our lives so difficult!

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