- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The massive National Security Agency data center about 25 miles south of Salt Lake City is using far less water than expected, utility records obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune show.

Records from the city of Bluffdale, which sells water to the facility, show monthly water use at the $1.7 billion data center peaked last July at 6.2 million gallons. That’s well below what the 1 million gallons a day that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted the center would need to cool its computer processers.

Water records from January 2012 through February 2012 show the center’s use has fluctuated, consuming more water in summer months as temperatures rise. The center’s December bill showed 3.8 million gallons were consumed. In January, water consumption rose to nearly 4.9 million gallons before falling in February to about 2.8 million gallons.

With those numbers so far below what engineers predicted, it raises questions about to what degree the center is operational. NSA officials have refused to say if the center is up and running after its scheduled opening last October was stalled by electrical problems.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines did not respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.

“I would guess that it’s not up and fully running,” James Bamford, the author of several books on the NSA who in 2012 wrote about the Utah center in Wired magazine, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “The difference between what they were planning and what they are actually using is magnitudes of difference.”

That makes it logical to assume the center is not fully operational and may be having further problems, Bamford said.

It’s not likely that initial estimates about how much water the center would need were wrong, he said.

“Building a data center is not very unique,” Bamford said. “They’ve done it many times all over the country, and I’m sure they can judge how much water will be used.”

Records show the NSA has made contract-required minimum monthly payments to the city, which were about $29,000 a month in July and increased to about $32,000 a month in January 2014.

Bluffdale City Manager Mark Reid told the Tribune (http://bit.ly/1fNc6Cj) that the NSA is paying for more water than it actually uses. “They could use a lot more water and pay the same amount,” Reid said.

The state records committee in March ordered Bluffdale to release the water records to The Tribune, which sought the documents under Utah’s open records-laws.

The city of Bluffdale initially fought releasing the records, citing opposition from the NSA that releasing the records could threaten the site’s security.

NSA officials have said the center plays a key role in the nation’s effort to protect national security networks and allow U.S. authorities to watch for potential cyber threats. They say operations at the center are lawfully conducted in accordance with U.S. laws and policies.

But officials haven’t offered any details about what exactly goes on in the center. Suspicion surrounding the center grew last year after revelations that the NSA is collecting millions of U.S. phone records along with digital communications stored by nine major Internet providers.

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