This has the makings of a 21st century water war. Late last year, the Salt Lake Tribune published a story about the sweet water deal the NSA struck with the city of Bluffdale, UT, getting the massive amounts of water it would need for cooling "at a rate below its own guidelines and the Utah average." In researching the story, the Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle attempted to find out just how much water they were talking about. The planning documents said 1.7 million gallons per day, revised down to 1.2. But in trying to nail that information down, Carlisle hit a roadblock: the NSA water usage is a matter of national security, and must be kept secret.
“By computing the water usage rate, one could ultimately determine the computing power and capabilities of the Utah Data Center,” wrote the NSA’s associate director for policy and records, David Sherman, in an undated letter filed with Bluffdale in response to the Tribune’s public records request. “Armed with this information, one could then deduce how much intelligence NSA is collecting and maintaining.” […]In other words, the NSA's argument was pretty much bullshit. That's what the Utah State Records Committee ultimately decided, too, in rejecting the NSA's argument Wednesday. This could end up being an interesting political problem for the NSA, and a fairly significant headache.
“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.”
The Tribune took on this fight because of the primacy of water, Carlisle explains. "We are the second driest state in the nation. […] We're just in the habit of accounting for water in this state because we have to. There’s just not enough water." Knowing how much of that precious resource has been sold off at a cut rate to the NSA is just one of the things about the agency and the facility that the people of the state deserve to know.