The proposal by Nautilus Data Technologies to set up a water-cooled data storage facility at Alameda Point was soundly rejected by the Alameda City Council on June 18. The facility would have pumped over 14 million gallons of water a day through its facility to cool computer servers. The company said water cooling is better for the environment than existing air conditioning technology. But by the time the environmental community was finished weighing in, it was clear that the Nautilus once-through cooling system would have replaced one problem by creating a new one.
The screen on the intake pipe underneath Pier 2 sounded good, until you consider that all the water coming out the other end in the Bay would have been filtered water that would have upset the natural ecological balance. Marine life would have been pasted against the intake screen and periodically scraped off. Tiny organisms would have made it through the screen and potentially been killed by the heat. The heated water at the point of discharge was another big concern, since warming water is one of the conditions in which toxic algae blooms occur.
Below are excerpts from letters sent by environmental groups to the city council and excerpts of public comments at the meeting. Thank you to all who spoke up for the natural world and our fragile Bay ecosystem.
Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors: “We think you should pull this item from the consent calendar and address the water discharge issue. The impact of discharging warm water into the harbor under the current proposal needs further investigation. … A supplemental environmental impact report (EIR) may need to be prepared, since this impact was not contemplated in the Alameda Point EIR.” February 12, 2019 letter
Sierra Club: “Rising water temperature in the Bay can be a contributing factor in the appearance of toxic algae blooms. At the projected volume of 10,000 gallons per minute, the heat being transferred to the Bay will maintain a permanently warmer zone of water next to the rock wall jetty at Alameda Point. Movement of the tides will not permanently dissipate the relentless infusion of warmer water into the Bay. … The San Francisco Bay and its delicate marine ecosystem is already under enough pressure. Adding another impact from warm water discharge is too risky, especially when there is no compelling reason for a data storage facility on the Bay shoreline. … The Sierra Club urges you to not approve the lease for Nautilus Data Technologies.” May 7, 2019 letter
San Francisco Baykeeper: “Once-through cooling is an antiquated technological approach and the system proposed here could harm San Francisco Bay in a variety of ways. By its nature, this approach to system cooling dissipates heat energy into adjacent waters. This transfer of heat energy, along the route of the cooling system and in the system’s outflow, can cause direct mortality to sensitive phases (e.g., eggs, or larvae) of desirable aquatic species, such as fish or their invertebrate prey. The dispersal of waste heat into waters surrounding the system may also facilitate the growth and distribution of undesirable organisms. System intake may entrain and kill sensitive species and currents formed by system outflow may disturb fragile habitats (e.g., egg incubation sites or cover for rearing fish). … Generally speaking, once-through cooling is old technology now being replaced by more updated systems with fewer environmental impacts. The energy savings from once-through cooling as compared with other outdated technologies referenced by the project applicant are not sufficient reason to sacrifice public trust resources.” June 10, 2019 letter
Audubon Society: “The central SF Bay fishery is critical for many birds and other animals. Many species are sensitive to just a few degrees higher than they usually experience in nature. A rise in temperature of even 1 degree Celsius could have important and rapid effects on mortality on some organisms and on their geographic distributions. Further, warmer waters may cause species that remain to swim in the water column at levels that are not accessible for birds.” June 11, 2019 letter
Sierra Club: “The Nautilus water-cooling system is untested. Yet, the staff is recommending approval of what, in essence, will be a multi-million-dollar science experiment on a Public Trust Land waterway. … Warming water, along with growing availability of nutrients, are the key conditions for algae blooms. The city should be risk averse and not authorize the introduction of heated water into a very slow moving body of water when it is a known risk factor.” June 18, 2019 letter
Lisa Baker: “My dad was an eminent marine biologist, and he told me years ago about the effect of heat on marine organisms and how small differences of temperature in marine water can cause devastating effects to habitats. And so, I don’t want that to happen. I think building the facility might be fine, but find another way to get rid of your warm water.”
Brigette Evans: “Even with the best possible fish screens, Nautilus will be pulling in countless organisms every day, heating and probably killing them. It will dump the heated water into the Bay changing the overall temperature of the Bay and without doubt effecting the natural processes in a complex ecosystem.”
Goeffrey Burnaford: $25 million gross charges of electricity. That’s a really big toaster that they’re runnin’ over there. I think the Bay itself is much too sensitive of an environment to allow these people to heat up.
Jill Saxty: “I think it’s not appropriate for Alameda unless it completely revamps its cooling system and its energy usage.”
Marjorie Powell: “There are concerns about both intake of water and expulsion of heated water into areas that have fish that are needed not only by the least terns and the harbor seals, but by any number of other birds that nest in the area.”
Pat Lamborn: “All the current science about the concern for algae blooms in the Bay… is the opposite of the memo that was submitted to you by the kind of experts [Nautilus] will hire, which said there was no danger at all.”
Lynn O’Connor: “I have memories of living next to the Bay that was less healthy than it is now, and am aware of how very small changes can create large environmental consequences for the better or the worse.”
Linda Carloni: “The proposed cooling system will cause water turbulence at the point of discharge, will tend to trap aquatic life at the intake point and will discharge water into the Bay at a temperature warmer that when it is drawn in. And warmer water temperature is known to adversely affect fish and certain species at particular stages of their lifecycle. In addition, warm water holds less dissolved oxygen than cooler water. And dissolved oxygen is a critical component of a healthy Bay.”
Mary Spicer: “As Alamedans we have a real responsibility to nature, and to the water and to the shoreline, and to the wildlife that inhabit our area. And I think that there’s so much amazing, true innovative technology in the Bay Area, and I would love to see Alameda really targeting new technology that really is innovative and really does help with what’s happening with climate change and the global issues that we’re having.”
Mark Klein: “The company has brushed off too many key questions by saying just wait until the permit process.”
Richard Bangert: “The fact that there is a rigorous permitting process does not mean there will be no impacts. … Quite frequently there are mitigation measures that are required as a condition of a permit. Sometimes it’s simply paying money into a fund that will later be used for some worthy restoration project around the Bay. And given the size of the Bay, what are the chances that that money will end up back here in Alameda?”