First came Edward Snowden, and now this: a Utah state panel has ordered the release of documents regarding water usage at a newly opened NSA data center in the city of Bluffdale.
The decision is the latest installment in an ongoing controversy that began last November, when the Salt Lake Tribune revealed that Bluffdale had agreed to sell water to the NSA at a rate below the city's guidelines so that it could secure a bid to become the site for the $1.5 billion facility—and all the infrastructure upgrades that would come with it.
It's been estimated that the Utah Data Center, at peak operation, uses more than 1 million gallons of water per day to cool its computer systems and high-capacity-data-storage equipment. Typically, large consumers of water in Bluffdale pay $3.25 per 1,000 gallons for water in excess of 100,000 gallons a month. But the city told the NSA that it would be charged $2.05 per 1,000 gallons, no matter how much water it used.
The Salt Lake Tribune, seeking to find out precisely how much water the NSA uses, filed a request for Bluffdale to release the data, under Utah's open-records law.
In a 5-0 vote, the State Records Committee upheld the request. As the Salt Lake Tribune reports:
Bluffdale City Attorney Vaughn Pickell argued on behalf of military lawyers that water data "could be used to extrapolate the electrical power usage, and thus the computing power, of the Utah Data Center."
By releasing the data, Pickell said, city officials and the State Records Committee would be violating federal law.
But committee member Ernest Rowley, who represents local government interests on the seven-member records panel, argued the public had a demonstrable interest in disclosure of the Bluffdale records.
"This isn't an individual's water," said Rowley, who made the motion to release the documents. "It is the public's water."