Microsoft Is Draining an Arizona Town's Water Supply for its AI

Water Cooler

A massive Microsoft data center in Goodyear, Arizona is guzzling the desert town's water supply to support its cloud computing and AI efforts, The Atlantic reports.

A source familiar with Microsoft's Goodyear facility told the Atlantic that it was specifically designed for use by Microsoft and the heavily Micosoft-funded OpenAI. In response to this allegation, both companies declined to comment.

Powering AI demands an incredible amount of energy. Worsening AI's massive environmental footprint is the fact that it also consumes a mind-boggling amount of water. AI pulls enough electricity from data centers that they risk overheating, so to mitigate that risk, engineers use water to cool the servers back down.

According to the Atlantic, Microsoft has been incredibly shady about its Goodyear center's water use, even redacting exact figures in city records on grounds that its water consumption is "proprietary" information. But in estimates commissioned by Microsoft itself, the 279-acre campus, which currently houses two buildings and is on track to host a third, would consume an annual 56 million gallons of drinking water once the final building is completed.

To put that in perspective? Per the Atlantic, that's approximately the amount that a total of 670 Goodyear families would consume in a year combined. And though that's a lot of water anywhere, it's especially material in a place like southern Arizona's Sonoran Desert, where a drying Colorado River and property development loopholes have led to an increasingly dire water crisis.

Priority Planning

Per the report, the Goodyear facility was first announced back in 2019, soon after Microsoft had put its first $1 billion into the then-less-publicly-known OpenAI.

To be clear, because Goodyear is an incorporated part of the Phoenix area, it's unlikely that Microsoft's facility is going to make any households go thirsty — in the near term, that is. But as Hao's report suggests, diverting water away from families — or, you know, just leaving it where it is for Arizonans of the future! — so that ChatGPT can spit out shopping lists in the style of William Shakespeare is certainly a choice, and one that comes with an implied cost.

"We're going to have to make tough choices in the near future to make sure our state is protected for future generations," Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes told the Atlantic. "Allowing one more data center to come to our state is an easy but stupid decision in a lot of cases."

This is one of Microsoft's many data centers worldwide. And again, data centers anywhere, particularly those fueling AI efforts, are resource-heavy. But as the Sonoran Desert only gets hotter, that this facility continues to power forward paints an especially striking picture of where the AI industry's priorities seem to lie.

More on AI thirst: Critics Furious Microsoft Is Training AI by Sucking Up Water During Drought