Despite likely cuts, Phoenix and Chandler say they have plenty of water for thirsty chip factories

Posted at 8:58 AM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-19 11:58:16-04

After an extremely dry winter season, the Colorado River’s Lake Mead reservoir is likely to hit a “Tier 1” shortage by the end of this year, which would trigger water allocation cuts for users in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Mexico.

At that level, the Drought Contingency Plan dictates an 18% reduction of Arizona's Colorado River allocation, which will have the most direct impact on agricultural users along the Central Arizona Project, according to an April statement from the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

The likely-cut would be a loss of 512,000 acre-feet of water each year, or about 30% of the CAP’s annual flow.

Despite the cuts, Arizona has recently attracted several new semiconductor factories (called fabs), which use millions of gallons of water each day to cool equipment or clean wafer surfaces. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. bought more than 1,100 acres in north Phoenix in December to build its first plant in America, and Intel Corp. announced plans to build two new fabs and add 3,000 jobs at its existing campus in Chandler in March.

While semiconductor fabs are extremely high-volume users, they are also efficient, recovering or recycling the majority of water they take in. TSMC has extensive water cleaning and recycling operations at its existing facilities in Taiwan and Intel's Chandler site is home to the company’s most advanced on-site water recycling facility, which is able to treat more than 9 million gallons of water daily.

Experts told the Business Journal that not every Valley city has a strong enough water portfolio to support such a high volume users, but for cities like Phoenix and Chandler, supporting new semiconductors fabs has been decades in the making.

Read more of this subscription-only story from the Business Journal.