How the Groundwater Crisis May Impact Data Centers

Here's why groundwater availability is poised to play a larger role in shaping the industry – and what data centers owners can do to keep it from undercutting their infrastructure plans.

Christopher Tozzi, Technology Analyst

March 12, 2024

4 Min Read
groundwater spout with water drop

For organizations thinking about where to build a data center, there's a new consideration to add to the list: Groundwater availability. Although groundwater conditions haven't traditionally been as important as factors like energy sources and network infrastructure when constructing data centers, groundwater is poised to play an increasingly important role in shaping the reliability and cost-effectiveness of data centers in the decade to come.

Here's why – and what data centers owners can do to help ensure groundwater issues don't undercut their infrastructure strategy.

Why Data Centers Need Groundwater

The main reason why data centers need access to groundwater is straightforward: Water plays an important role in cooling IT equipment within many data center facilities, and much of that water is pumped from underground aquifers.

The exact amount of water that a data center consumes in a day can vary depending on the types of cooling systems a facility employs and the efficiency of those systems. But the volumes can be vast: Each Google data center uses about 450,000 gallons of water per day, for example. That's equivalent to the daily water consumption of about 1,500 U.S. households, according to the EPA – and we're talking here about water consumption by Google data centers, which are probably more water-efficient than the average facility.

Related:Data Center Sustainability Predictions, Hopes, and Questions for 2024

The Growing Importance of Groundwater to Data Centers

Water availability has always been important for data center cooling purposes. But two trends are now making it increasingly vital.

One is growing pressure surrounding ESG (or however you choose to label goals associated with social and environmental responsibility). More businesses now face mandates from shareholders, customers, regulators and the public at large to be good stewards of the environment, and their ability to protect local groundwater is one facet of ESG. This is why, for instance, AWS has committed to reporting Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) metrics on a regular basis.

This isn't to say that data center operators had no reason to care about their facilities' impact on groundwater in the past. Water sustainability has always been a noble goal. But the reality is that the surge of interest in ESG means that businesses that once paid little attention to groundwater impact now care about their performance in this regard.

The second main reason why groundwater has become more consequential to data center operators is that there is simply less of it to go around. Growing populations, increased use of water for agricultural purposes and prolonged droughts in some regions have contributed to serious groundwater shortages in the United States and beyond.

Related:How Can Data Centers Reduce Water Usage and Improve Efficiency?

Mitigating Groundwater Shortages for Your Data Center

Compared to other types of ESG challenges, groundwater shortages are especially hard for data center operators to address. You can address demand for renewable energy by building solar panels or wind farms, for instance. But you can't make more groundwater.

There are, of course, steps that data center operators can take to use the groundwater available to them more efficiently. Raising the overall server room temperature can reduce cooling needs, decreasing the amount of water necessary for cooling. HVAC system modernization can improve water usage efficiency, too. And "recycling" water by recirculating it through cooling systems, as opposed to feeding new water into the systems constantly, can reduce overall water use.

That said, water efficiency measures like these only go so far. Faced with the risk that groundwater aquifers might run totally dry, some data center operators may need to do more than simply invest in water efficiency. They'll need to reconsider where they build data centers in the first place.

Relocating Data Centers To Protect Water Access

This is why, over the coming decade, the industry may see a move to relocate data centers to regions that provide more sustainable groundwater supplies.

Currently, several of the regions in the United States where data center concentrations are densest – such as Phoenix, Dallas and parts of California – are among those experiencing varying degrees of water availability crises. Data center owners that want to reduce the impact of their facilities on the environment are likely to need to move their infrastructure to places with more water.

For that reason, we may see more data center construction in places like the Eastern United States, which so far has been less affected by water shortages. It's also possible that data center operators will invest in infrastructure capable of moving water across long distances to mitigate local groundwater limitations, but that's an expensive proposition that may not permanently solve groundwater challenges for the industry.


Groundwater is in increasingly short supply, especially in some of the places where data centers have traditionally been concentrated. Going forward, data center operators will need to think strategically about where to build new facilities to ensure that they have the water resources necessary to operate reliably – and that they don't become poor environmental stewards by making groundwater shortages even worse.

About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Technology Analyst, Fixate.IO

Christopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.

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