Environmentalist Proposes Safer Discharge Route

Photos by Richard Bangert    Environmental activist Richard Bangert is proposing Nautilus Data Technologies discharge the Bay water it uses to cool the racks of its computer servers into the Oakland Estuary. The company currently plans to run the water through a pipe directly below the seal haul-out (pictured below) that floats in environmentally sensitive waters near Breakwater Beach.

Harbor seal haulout located near data firm’s planned water outlet pipe

Nautilus Data Technologies is proposing to convert Building 530, located at 120 West Oriskany Ave. at Alameda Point, into a data storage facility. This facility would consist of racks of computer servers that heat up and that Nautilus needs to keep cool. Nautilus has chosen to use water from San Francisco Bay to accomplish this because water cooling is a cheaper alternative than traditional air- conditioning.

In order to water-cool the racks at the facility, Nautilus must draw 10,000 gallons of water a minute from San Francisco Bay. Because of its location at Alameda Point, the company will draw this water from beneath nearby Pier 2 where the USS Hornet is moored. 

Once that water has done its job cooling the racks, Nautilus plans to discharge it into a 5-foot diameter pipe. This pipe would then discharge water into the Bay at the same rate it drew the water in.  

This means that Nautilus would pump 600,000 gallons of its used water back into San Francisco Bay every hour. That adds up to 14.4 million gallons a day. Environmental activist Richard Bangert fears that the discharge from cooling Nautilus’s racks could increase water temperature around the discharge area by as much as 4 degrees. Nautilus counters that the increase in the water temperature would be negligible.    

Nautilus plans lay a 5-foot-diameter pipe on the floor of what Bangert considers one of Alameda’s more environmentally sensitive waters. In fact the pipe would run directly beneath the float that the seals populate and through a nearby breakwater that has no foundation on the bay floor. 

The pipe would open on the other side of the breakwater, not far from the seals and discharge more than 100 million gallons of water that Nautilus had used to cool its racks into the Bay each week. 

“This will constantly churn the waters just where the herring spawn each year,” Bangert pointed out. 

Bangert is also concerned that if Nautilus’s water-cooling system heats the water 4 degrees, it would also heat the 5-foot-wide pipe and not cool the discharged water to a “negligible” level. In a letter to Nautilus Chief Executive Officer James Connaughton, Bangert asked that Nautilus reconsider running its pipe through the environmentally sensitive waters where the seals “haul-out.” This is also where the soon-to-return migratory least terns will forage for their chicks, where the herring spawn and where many sensitive creatures thrive. These include: leopard sharks, bat rays, moon jellyfish, ghost shrimp and the California sea hare.

“This area should be given some type of marine conservation status and left alone in its natural state,” Bangert wrote in his letter to Connaughton. In his letter Bangert asked the Nautilus CEO to consider piping the water along Main Street and into the less environmentally sensitive Oakland Estuary. Bangert helped clarify his proposal with a map (above).  

Bangert also pointed out that if Nautilus discharged this water into the Oakland Estuary, the company would not be required to obtain permits from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Bangert also stated in his letter that “the current proposal to run the discharge pipe underneath the harbor seal float is not practical: the draft of the float is two feet, meaning it would hit the pipe at lowest tide.

“I appeal to you to amend your lease proposal to the city and choose the more environmentally friendly discharge route under Main Street,” Bangert wrote to Connaughton.