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This is not something we’ve thought about


When we talk about drought (here in the U.S. anyway), we generally think about agricultural issues. Just look at the number of news reports about the difficulties in the Fresno area over the winter — lack of irrigation water forcing farmers to skip planting lettuce, tomatoes, melons, etc. Less widely reported were the statistics for unemployment in those areas, 25% or higher. But still, this is all ag-related, so it won’t really affect us, right?Nope, we saw in Atlanta last year quite a lot of chatter about urban water restrictions limiting car washes and lawn-watering. Life was not as footloose and fancy-free as it was before the drought, but we’re not talking about the large population shifts and famine that we see in Africa. Having a dirty car isn’t going to kill you. Clearly, I’m still here, writing this. 

So you couldn’t fill your pool in Georgia and lettuce will be more expensive (it’s easy to grow so why not grow it yourself?). No big deal. I’ll just hang out and surf the interwebs or play with my XBox, sniping n00bs online*. Right? 

Well, maybe not. Turns out data centers take a lot of water for the cooling systems, a situation likely to get worse as more people move towards cloud computing. Just imagine sitting in your living room, logging on to watch the next greatest youtube triumph and not being able to because of a severe drought four states away at a data center. Or wondering what happened to your blog when you can’t connect. What do you do when that affects your ability to do your job if you freelance or work from home? And, if you are in the community with the data center, when do you decide that providing services through the center is negatively affecting the quality of life? If Yahoo, for example, said “We can’t cut back our water usage. We’ll lose market share and revenue from customers in other states.” Especially when that type of usage may not be covered by the disaster mitigation plan for your community. 

I’m glad that the managers of those companies and centers are starting to realize the impact that they have on water supplies and are taking steps to reduce their impact. Because at the end of the day, many of our aging urban areas will have trouble dealing with efficient transport and use of water simply due to the aging infrastructure. A trial in Tucson, AZ, found that the system couldn’t handle the reduced flow when toilets were replaced with low-flow models. The pipes just couldn’t transport the waste. So, because the system wouldn’t work without very extensive retrofitting, the trial was stopped, and the city won’t actively work to get all of the fixtures replaced. (This may have changed at some point over the last few years, but I doubt really that the money magically appeared.) In an area where water conservation is absolutely critical to supporting the population, being unable to implement conservation measures is pretty detrimental to the long-term health of the community. Fun.

* if this ever happens, which I doubt it will since I don’t own an XBox, I will be the one that’s blasted as soon as I log in. Not really much of a gamer. Although I do like the Katamari games. 

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