Most people don’t associate Intel Corp., the world’s largest semiconductor maker, with water.
Yet each day, 2 million gallons of industrial wastewater — enough to fill at least 30,000 bathtubs— are piped from Intel plants in Chandler, Ariz., to a facility a mile away, where it’s treated, then returned to an underground aquifer.
Intel, the city’s largest employer, recycles about 60 percent of its water and is expanding the treatment facilities and increasing the amount it reuses as the company finishes a $5 billion plant to build computer chips.
For most manufacturers, the leftover effluent or concentrated dissolved salts that result from making chips often ends up in a sewer. Intel cleans its supply to drinking-quality standards to replenish groundwater beneath the city 25 miles east of Phoenix.
In a Sonoran desert community that receives 9 inches of rainfall a year, “those millions of gallons of water have a second life,” said Christine Mackay, Chandler’s economic development director.
Replenished aquifers make more water available for energy and electricity production forecast to double in 25 years and aids a parched metropolitan area such as Phoenix, which set a single-day water-use record on June 30 with 420 million gallons.
Using less matters in a region facing the worst 14-year drought period in 100 years.
The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water in 17 Western states, on Aug. 16 announced plans for its first water-release reduction from Lake Powell to Lake Mead, Las Vegas’ main water source.
The 9.1-percent cutback over the next year raises the potential for water shortages in Arizona and Nevada and the likelihood of less hydroelectric power generation at Glen Canyon Dam in Lake Powell and the Hoover Dam at Lake Mead.
Shrinking downstream deliveries amid a drought also fans water-supply concerns.
“You are in the middle of the desert so there is a huge demand,” Ron Feathers, superintendent of the water-treatment plant, said during a facility tour.
Water-sustainability efforts aren’t exclusive to Intel.
Beverage companies such as PepsiCo Inc. and SABMiller need reliable water sources and for years have worked to ensure supplies.
The water-treatment facility, completed in 1996, is operated by Chandler and costs $2.4 million annually to run. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel is billed monthly for the costs.
As of July, 5.2 billion gallons had been sent from the plant to the aquifer for Chandler’s use, Intel said.