Microsoft Helps City of Quincy Reuse Water and Recharge the Aquifer

Brian Janous, Utility ArchitectKevin Williams, Director
Data Center Services

When most people think about data centers, and their main ingredients, they typically assume electricity and fiber are the primary components.  Granted these are high on the list, but water is also a traditionally essential component particularly when outside temperatures are high.

The City of Quincy is located in the high desert of Washington state where it's hot in the summer, and as such, water is a limited resource. This is not a new development; wisely using water is always a good thing. As part of Microsoft's commitment to sustainable practices, we partnered with the City of Quincy in 2011 to help create a water reuse system, and transferred the operations of our data center water treatment plant to the City.  To our knowledge, this is the first known transfer of a water treatment plant to a municipality in our industry and with operations expected to begin this summer, I would like to share more about why we think this type of collaborative project helps the industry and environment benefit as a whole.  

Water Treatment Plant Quincy, WA

Water treatment plant in Quincy, Washington

How it works

Microsoft's latest data center designs utilize the most efficient means of mechanical cooling (e.g., adiabatic systems) where possible or even outside air.  In cases where chilled water is required, we can sometimes find more efficient ways to utilize the water required for those systems.  In some locations we have access to recycled water programs. That was not available in Quincy when we built our data center there, but we found a unique opportunity in 2011 to bring together several parties to create a new sustainable water Reuse program.

Following discussions between our engineers, the City of Quincy, the City's engineers, and their operations team we learned that food processing plants located in Quincy had excess water after washing and preparing fruits and vegetables for their journey to your local supermarket.  Data centers, and other local businesses and industries needed water - not necessarily drinking water.  This led to a perfect marriage. Water leaving the food processing plants is filtered and turned into water perfectly acceptable for use in commercial cooling systems.

By adapting two needs into the City's water Reuse program, there are several significant benefits:

  • Dramatic reduction of potable (drinking) water needed for commercial use
  • A larger portion of potable water is reserved for residents, schools, hospitals, and other users
  • Between 2 and 4 million gallons of water will be preprocessed each day by the water treatment plant and returned to the ground water to help recharge the local aquifer, or used to supplement local irrigation needs.
  • The City can now integrate more customers into its reused water system

In short, Quincy's reuse system represents a highly efficient solution in terms of benefits; it helps the community, the city, commercial users, and most importantly, the environment.

During the last 18 months, the concept and implementation plan for the reuse water program has been put into place. The City was instrumental in securing funding for their further development of the concept, while Microsoft leased for $10 annually our multi-million dollar water treatment plant for conversion into the municipal water reuse system. Microsoft originally designed the plant to remove minerals from the water, and with design modifications, the City was able to adapt our system to recycle the food processing plants' waste water.  Microsoft and the City of Quincy announced a 30-year agreement in October 2011, and now the City is just months away from beginning operations.  In addition, recent water softening enhancements will provide a higher number of use cycles of the water, helping reduce water usage and returning more water to the system.   

We continue to research designs to reduce water usage and improve sustainability across our data centers.  Although water is still used to cool portions of our Quincy facility, our latest facilities in Quincy are air-cooled, using 1-3 percent of the water required for a traditional data center.


Quincy Mayor Jim Hemberry (left) and Microsoft's Kevin Williams (right)

Unique in many ways, Quincy's water reuse system project is an example of Microsoft's commitment to environmental sustainability and to working with the local communities where we live and do business. As we explore new methods of efficiency in data centers, our hope is that relationships like this one with the City of Quincy can serve as a model for others to drive similar reductions in power and water usage.   We look forward to working with Quincy and organizations supporting the Reuse program to ensure the success of the community and its environmental sustainability in the years ahead. 


Kevin Williams, Director, Data Center Services