Alameda tells Nautilus to cool it

Jul 12, 2019

When Nautilus Data Technologies proposed building a data farm on the Alameda shoreline, it at first didn't raise any red flags with the city.

But the company didn’t choose the location for the scenic Bay views. The planned site for the data farm would allow the facility to pump 14 million gallons of water from the Bay every day to cool overheated computer servers. Then they would release the used, warm water back into the Bay, a process known as once-through cooling.

When Baykeeper learned about this project from a concerned Alameda resident, we knew we needed to look into it. Once-through cooling is destructive, outdated technology, and Baykeeper successfully advocated for its phase out when it was used by local power plants.

For the Nautilus proposal, our scientists identified multiple problems. First, the underwater intake valves would kill fish and wildlife that get sucked into turbines and trapped by the force of rushing water against intake screens. Plus, the intake and release of water could alter the Bay’s natural currents. 

In addition, releasing hot water into the Bay every day would impact the delicate ecosystem around the discharge area. Fish, for instance, are cold-blooded animals and are therefore very sensitive to temperature changes.

"The Bay’s fish and wildlife are already at risk from so many different human impacts," says Baykeeper Senior Scientist Jon Rosenfield. "Warming the Bay's water, building giant pipes in important habitat, and trapping tiny fish and their prey—these are all activities that can further damage the Bay."

Baykeeper staff discussed our concerns with company representatives and city officials, and then submitted a letter to the Alameda City Council outlining the threats the Nautilus server farm posed to the Bay. The Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, and many Alameda residents also raised strong objections to the project.

At a June City Council meeting, Alameda Mayor Ashcraft made a statement opposing the project, specifically citing Baykeeper’s concerns. Ultimately, the City Council reversed course on its planned approval of the project and voted unanimously to reject the proposal. The decision protects the health of fish, wildlife, and San Francisco Bay.

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