While some may think of traffic, steel and concrete, new construction, whether it be residential, commercial or industrial, requires utilities, and in larger projects like Micron’s new semiconductor plant, a lot of water.
Micron says it may use up to 48 million gallons per day by the time the project in Clay is fully built. That number was calculated taking every possibility into account, and Micron said it expects it could be lower.
Either way, much of it will come from Lake Ontario.
Two experts, one on the utility side and one on the environmental side, recently discussed what 48 million gallons coming out of the lake would look like, and if it’s safe for the health of the lake and surrounding area.
What You Need To Know
- Micron plans to use up to 48 million gallons of water a day, raising many to question about sustainability
- CNY water provider OCWA said it will have to build new infrastructure, but can handle the demand
- One environmental expert say the number is large, but the lake can handle it
- What chemicals are in the water when they finish it is more concerning, he said
“You can see here at the Farrell Pump Station,” said Jeff Brown, executive director of the Central New York’s Water Authority (OCWA), as he pointed to a large underground pipe, just barely poking out of a hole in the ground. “The pipe to the right is the 54-inch main coming down from the Lake Ontario plant.”
He said ongoing construction is giving a glimpse of the pipe that’s going to make the project possible, carrying millions of gallons of water per day that will power Micron’s massive semiconductor plant from their Lake Ontario plant in Oswego, to two large tanks at the pump station in Clay.
“From there, water is pumped both from the east, which would be toward the Micron site, as well as west,” Brown said.
Initial estimates put Micron’s daily water usage at 20 million gallons per day for the project’s early stages, but Brown said updated numbers for the a full build put that number at a staggering 48 million gallons per day, necessitating the construction of another big pipe along the same route.
“We are going to have to build a parallel line down from Lake Ontario here to Clay,” he said.
New York state continues to focus on rebuilding its manufacturing base. But how do developers and municipalities make sure they aren’t using too much water from the sources that fuel communities?
“It’s regulated, to some degree, that you have to leave a minimum amount of water in the stream, which is determined by a minimum flow that supports fish and aquatic organisms, so in most cases, you can’t just draw as much water as you want,” said Steve Shaw, associate professor in the department of environmental resources and engineering at SUNY ESP.
He said 48 million gallons is less than 0.1 percent of the water that flows through the lake, and is continuously replaced. That’s before even considering the billions of gallons that are stored in the depths beneath. Ultimately, he says it’s similar to a thimble full of water being taken out of a full bathtub.
“When you start to look at a really large body of water like Lake Ontario, it’s hard to imagine that drawing that water from Lake Ontario is going to be much of a concern,” he said.
He said when it comes to smaller water sources like Skaneateles Lake, which supplies the City of Syracuse, more care is required.
“You’re pretty much at the limit of what additional water are you going to be able to draw from Skaneateles Lake, but nowhere near the limit on Lake Ontario,” he said.
But he said it's after the water has been a part of the semiconductor process is what should be raising eyebrows.
“In terms of what do they do with that water, and is it treated properly? That’s a different question,” he said.
The Onondaga County Wastewater Treatment Agency is prepping new facilities to deal with the increased industrial waste from Micron, and other wastewater from resulting new development, an agency representative said.