AI revolution drives surge in water consumption

The AI boom has a hidden cost: a 34% surge in water consumption by Microsoft’s data centers in West Des Moines, Iowa.


The utilisation of AI tools has resulted in a substantial 34% upswing in Microsoft’s water consumption, prompting apprehension within the city of West Des Moines, Iowa, where Microsoft’s data centers are situated. This surge in water usage is directly linked to the escalating demand for AI technology, particularly for the training of large language models such as GPT-4, which necessitate extensive computational capabilities and cooling systems. The cooling of data centers relies on water, and this demand has surged in tandem with the increasing popularity of generative AI.

Both Microsoft and OpenAI are actively investing in research aimed at assessing the environmental impact of AI and are actively seeking ways to enhance energy and water efficiency. However, the substantial water consumption has given rise to concerns regarding its effects on the residential water supply in Iowa. The West Des Moines Water Works has called for future Microsoft data center projects to incorporate technology that can diminish peak water consumption, with the objective of safeguarding water resources for residential and business needs. Microsoft is collaborating with local authorities to address these concerns while still fulfilling its operational requirements.

Why does this matter?

Researchers have approximated that ChatGPT consumes roughly 500 millilitres of water every time it processes a sequence of prompts or queries. This water consumption encompasses secondary factors, such as the cooling of power plants that supply electricity to data centers. Google has also reported a 20% augmentation in water consumption, attributed to its AI endeavours. The substantial water consumption diverts water resources away from other critical needs, including residential supply, agriculture, and ecosystem preservation. Concerns in cities like West Des Moines demonstrate the real-world impact of AI development on local communities and their access to essential resources. The article emphasises the importance of responsible development and resource management in the technology sector.