Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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On Wednesday, Facebook gave a rare glimpse of their Los Lunas Data Center to local media showing expansion plans and how the company was being responsible during a drought with its water usage. The Facebook Data Center, located on the west side of I-25, within the Village of Los Lunas, has been a symbol of New Mexico’s evolving economy in the tech industry.

The 750-acre campus, which is expected to be completed in early 2024, will boast 3.8 million square feet across eight buildings representing a two billion dollar investment. Currently, four buildings are operational, with an additional four in development. According to Facebook, when the project is completed, the campus will provide 400 operational jobs. The campus, discounting construction workers and contractors, currently employs a workforce of 200 people. 

It is easy to see the scope and ambition of the project just from the highway. At 750 acres and four gargantuan buildings, each building roughly the size of four football fields or large enough to fit an aircraft carrier, the campus dominates the landscape. The most recent report on the campus’ construction stated that 126,792 yards of concrete had been poured, along with 19,637 tons of steel erected. The enormous material cost of the construction project, which is on the eve of entering its fifth year, has necessitated a large construction force. Some 138 New Mexico companies have been involved in the development of the Facebook Los Lunas Data Center, comprising 70 percent of subcontractors.

“With more than 1,000 construction workers on site every day at the Facebook Data Center and hundreds of permanent full-time employees, all of New Mexico can agree the data center project has been a boon to New Mexico and a great benefit to Los Lunas and Valencia County,” Governor Lujan Grisham said in an official release. “The expansion proves New Mexico can meet the needs of large global companies which need a skilled workforce, modern infrastructure and a strong and competitive business environment.”

What About The Water?

In its early days, the announcement of such a large facility raised concerns by community leaders and activists about its impact on an already water-starved state. Valencia Water Watchers, a grassroots coalition of local residents advocating for water conservation, raised concerns about the facility’s impact on an already-strained aquifer. “The issue is not how sustainable Facebook is, but rather: Should data centers exist in the desert? Data centers use precious water. In a year when farmers are being paid not to farm because of a lack of water, any use of our water for corporate interests over human need is unethical. Further, the Los Lunas Facebook Data Center uses evaporative cooling, which inevitably results in a waste of water, no matter how much water is ‘saved’ by Facebook’s sustainability practices. Facebook’s sustainability projects do return a great deal of water to certain areas of New Mexico, but they cannot put water directly back into our aquifer. This is the water the residents of Valencia County need to survive, and it is wrong to give this water away for the sake of technology,” the group said over email to The Paper.  

The concerns over the Facebook Los Lunas Data Center appear to have been taken in earnest by the company. According to Facebook, 88 percent of construction waste has been diverted to recycling centers. The design and engineering of the campus has also emphasized a minimal impact on its water-starved environment. But the sheer magnitude of the project will have an inevitable environmental impact. To offset this Facebook has announced a goal of restoring 200 percent of the water consumed by the data center into local watersheds. Last year, the company says it restored 64 million gallons of water to New Mexico watersheds in 2020.

“We know water is an important issue in New Mexico, and that is why we are committing to restoring twice as much water as we consume to local watersheds through partnerships with environmental organizations such as Audobon Southwest, the National Forest Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited,” Facebook’s VP of Infrastructure Rachel Peterson said.  

The economic reverberations of the massive data center have also been felt around the state. The company says it has taken a hyper-ecoconscious approach to develop and keep the data center running. The data center will source its electricity across 10 renewable energy projects over six counties, totaling 635MW of wind and solar energy. The construction of these renewable energy projects will support an estimated 1,400 construction jobs. 

“It goes without saying that the economic impacts, along with the direct and indirect jobs created from this project, have been felt throughout the state. But it’s our residents, local businesses, schools and nonprofits that have largely benefited from having one of the most high-tech and recognized brands in the world be located within the Village of Los Lunas,” Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego said.