News Feature | January 13, 2014

NSA Partners With Wastewater Utility To Cool New Data Center

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


The National Security Agency (NSA) is diving into the wastewater industry.

The agency has partnered with a wastewater utility in Howard County, MD, in an attempt to use wastewater to cool a massive new computer data center under construction at Fort Meade. The center will "use up to 5 million gallons a day of treated wastewater from a utility," according to Data Center Knowledge

The agency is billing the effort as "a money-saving, environment-conserving deal," the Baltimore Sun reported. Officials say it could serve as a model for other agencies.

The NSA's High Performance Computing Center-2, which broke ground in May, "will pay $2 million a year for treated wastewater from the Maryland county when it opens up for business, analyzing cybersecurity threats, in 2016. The county is also in talks to sell their wastewater to Dreyer's Ice Cream," Gizmodo reported

The plan has not gone off without controversy. 

"Critics see an opportunity to disrupt the agency’s controversial surveillance activities. A coalition of rights groups has targeted similar deals elsewhere — notably in Utah, where the NSA recently completed a $1.5 billion data center — lobbying state lawmakers to make it illegal for local governments to supply water and other utilities to the agency," according to the Washington Post

The NSA stressed the environmental benefits of the deal. Harvey Davis, director of installation and logistics at the NSA, said in the Post that the arrangement is “dramatically beneficial for the taxpayers and also really good for the ecosystem.”

"NSA could have drawn tap water or dug wells to cool its computers, but Davis said those options were far more expensive and would have added stress to an aquifer burdened by rapid development in the area," the Post said. 

The report described the logistics of the partnership: "By using the outflow from Howard’s Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant, the NSA leaves the ground water alone and reduces the amount of treated water the county sends to the Chesapeake Bay."

Davis described the agency as part of the community.

“The people who work here at NSA are the same people who live next door to you and me,” Davis said in the article. “We’ve got boats. We want the bay to be clean. We want our drinking water to be good. So we all look at it, both from an organizational perspective and a personal perspective, that we’re part of the community, to make sure we do things that are right for the ecosystem.”

Visit Water Online to read about government regulation of the water sector.

Image credit: “Data Center," © 2013 BobMical, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

Want to publish your opinion?

Contact us to become part of our Editorial Community.