Google data center water use - once a closely held secret - was revealed last fall. In 2021 they used 3.3 billion gallons of water in the US alone, and another almost 1 billion globally.
Google data centers use water, and a lot of it, because they use a lot of electricity to make all our searches (and other activities we do on Google) possible. In 2021, the search giant used 3.3 billion gallons of water in the US alone.
All large data centers use water, both directly and virtually. They withdraw water directly to cool their servers that get hot from operational use. They also use water virtually because they power their servers and cooling systems with electricity generated at power plants which rely on water for their own cooling needs.
How much water individual data centers use is not generally well known. Call it an operational secret, or maybe it’s something the municipal water system serving the data center might want divulged, especially when the data center is located in a water scarce area where water resources are in stiff competition from other sectors like agriculture, residential development or even industrial users like power plant operators. In the days of dwindling water resources, a fight over water is a fight it’s best to be out in front of.
For Google data centers to reveal their water use is a big deal, and it represents a step toward understanding how they can reduce their water use. In order to put the number in perspective, Google claims that their total annual water consumption is similar to the water consumed by 29 golf course in the Southwest US - an area of the country that has been struggling with a decades-long mega-drought. Google has agreed to provide annual water use data in the future, at least at some facilities (note that they released the data after a media outlet in The Dalles in Oregon fought the city to obtain the information).
All of our online activity comes at a high water cost. We can all do our part by computing responsibly. Who hasn’t left multiple search tabs open when they’ve walked away from their computer for the night? If you want to save water, close out those tabs and give your computer a rest.
Read more about how energy uses water in The Water Footprint of Energy.