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Foxconn Will Take 7M Gallons of Water per Day from Lake Michigan to Make LCDs (gizmodo.com.au)
55 points by startupflix 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments

Here is the article linked to by Slashdot: https://gizmodo.com/foxconn-will-drain-7-million-gallons-of-...

The article by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: https://dnr.wi.gov/news/releases/article/?id=4513

According to the DNR article, the non consumed water will be returned:

> As part of the diversion approval, the city of Racine must ensure that the diverted water is returned to Lake Michigan minus consumptive use such as evaporation. The water returned to Lake Michigan will be treated at the Racine Wastewater Treatment Plant to meet all applicable state and federal water quality discharge standards. Any industrial customers, such as Foxconn, will work with the City of Racine to meet pretreatment requirements for wastewater.

It's not immediately clear how much of that water will be returned, but at least it won't be consuming 7M gallons daily. I'm not sure what impacts this might have, and neither article really goes into it.

> It's not immediately clear how much of that water will be returned, but at least it won't be consuming 7M gallons daily.

Even if they did, Lake Michigan is estimated to contain one quadrillion gallons of water. Foxconn will have long ceased to exist by the time anyone even notices the water is missing.

The problem is not so much foxconn or one entity. The problem is everyone wants that water, everyone... If you open the floodgates to using that for industrial purposes the largest supply of freshwater in the world will be drained and/or polluted within a few decades.

An interesting use case is a suburb of Milwaukee called Waukesha which happens to be out of clean drinking water they are reduced to using radon laced wells. The problem pronounces itself when they can’t take water from Lake Michigan because Waukesha is over the Mississippi water basin. Spoiler: they got permission to use the water


Not only that but literally everyone in that region is already using that water.

Somehow this is punishment for the iphone. You can't just casually cause hundreds or thousands of suicides or whatever it was, for your stupid first world luxury toys, and not expect to suffer some kind of karma backlash.

Not to mention Lake Michigan is connected to all the other Great Lakes.

I’ve always thought we Midwesterners should be shipping trains of freshwater tanks to the 40 million lemmings who decided to move to a natural desert on the left coast.

We’ll only charge the same price per gallon as Evian or Pelligrino. It could solve the Illinois budget crisis quickly.

How long would it take to notice, say, an inch decrease? Or whatever other small unit if it's not measurable to an inch.

Consumption: 7M Gallons/day = 26.5E3 m^3 / day (fed to foxconn's personal black hole)

Area of Lake Michigan: 58000 km^2 = 58E9 m^2

Corresponds to 4.6E-7 m/day or about 6 years for one millimeter or about 150 years for the oddly specific 25.4mm you were asking for.

If we take the 39% loss figure from the article, we get 15 years/1mm and 390 years/25.4mm.

So does that mean it takes just 390 Foxconns to have the lake drop an inch each year?


The surface area of Lake Michigan is 22394 square miles according to Google, which converts to 8.99e13 square inches. If you're only looking for one inch of depth, that is 8.99e13 cubic inches. Each cubic inch is 0.00433 gallons, so the first inch of Lake Michigan is 389,267,000,000 gallons. Divide by the loss per day, in this case assuming they're consuming the entire 7 million gallons, and it will take 55609.6 days, or 152 years and change for Lake Michigan to lose 1 inch excluding other sources of loss or addition and so on.

Permanently removing water in those quantities is basically impossible. The energy costs from electrolysis or evaporation would be staggering.

Consuming is what I meant. I have edited the post to make that correction.

I (almost) always try to make positive/helpful comments in this forum. But reading (again) about these "complaints" the below comes to mind:

...<title of Lake Michigan article>, while at the same time, somewhere else on this planet (perhaps China?) many factories do the exact same thing, and since it hasn't caused noise, very few think about it. And at the same time people in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Oceania, rest-of-Asia (countries that don't host such factories), go on in their day looking at their smartphone screens, reading news about Lake Michigan.

I think it’s actually good that this happens in the states because it gets attention (see above article) and things can be done to enhance the situation. I have no clue how these things get handled in China and elsewhere. I have a guess though. BTW: Recently I’ve learned on HN that rivers in China and India are mostly responsible for plastics in the oceans.

Sounds like someone needs to install a trash wheel. [0]

[0] http://baltimorewaterfront.com/healthy-harbor/water-wheel/

That trash is from private citizens dumping garbage into waterways, not from industry.

But who is complaining?

And why on earth should someone in - The Americas, Europe, Africa, Oceania, rest-of-Asia care if China wastes their OWN water? China can do whatever they want with their own natural resources. As long as they aren't actively harming other nations, it's their prerogative.

So yes.. of COURSE people in the US are going to care when a Chinese company comes to the US and starts wasting our natural, shared resources while at the same time not caring at all when China wastes their own shared natural resources. I'm not sure why that would seem odd or confuse you in the least.

In other news: Lots of people are pissed that the current US president is removing protections on national monuments. Same people don't bat an eye when Xi Jinping refuses to create national monuments in China. The sky is blue. Water is wet.

> As long as they aren't actively harming other nations, it's their prerogative.

They are.

Foxconn is a Taiwanese company

And the US, as with most of the world, doesn't officially recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. But I guess we can spend the day arguing semantics rather than the subject of conversation.


It’s not semantics when PRC and ROC are de facto seperate nations, and you were certainly referring to the PRC in your post (mentioning Xi...)

akditer 9 months ago [flagged]

Taiwan is same as China

We've banned this account for repeatedly breaking the HN guidelines.


Sure. Now, who is the sole legitimate representative of that sovereignty?

(Background info for others: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1992_Consensus and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Chinas ).

That is a very nationalist outlook of the world and one of the reason we have such a huge problem with the environment Globally...

It is all one Planet..

Which is why I literally said "As long as they aren't harming any other nations"...

If you want to assert that the US gets to dictate how every other nation on earth utilizes their own natural resources, I guess you're a big proponent of the end of mankind, because that's how you get world war 3. Talk about a nationalist...

Even if we assume the treated water wont return to the lake basin. Would still need 508,806 years to drain.

Are there any other dangerous side-effects or why is this a thing? Enlighten me please.

I would say the real story here is the absolute giveaway this deal is to Foxconn.

The subsidy given to a giant corporation is now past $4 billion, to a company with revenue in the range of $140 billion. Specific exemptions are being cut to allow the company to not produce an environmental impact statement for any emissions or pollutants discharged. It's clear Scott Walker and co want to set a precedent for future deals.

This sort of corporate coziness between a mega corporation and a state not only is unfair to other businesses not getting the tax deal, but unfair to the citizens who had these regulations enacted.

Additionally the Great Lakes have a legacy of industrial pollution we're only starting to recover from. It's hard to understate how dead these lakes were and still are in many places. Tributary rivers once regularly caught on fire from pollutants sitting on the surface. Hundreds of thousands of acres surrounding the lakes are contaminated with heavy metals, PCBs, radioactive waste - uninhabitable without extreme treatment. These lakes are 1/5th of the world's fresh water.

This stemmed not just from the era of no pollution regulation, but even during the EPA era, there was an unwillingness for the government to enforce regulations on the big polluters and employers. Of course when the factories close and the full extent of pollution comes to public light, the companies who made the profit often have merged or evaporated beyond responsibility, leaving taxpayers on the hook with poisoned land and water.

Do you think the politicians making this deal will have any incentive to follow up and take action if Foxconn does start exceeding their already relaxed permitted emissions?


What is the effect of one bee sting? A minor pain and a bit of swelling.

What is the effect of 10,000 bee stings?

What's at issue is the perceived violation of the Great Lakes Compact. That is, the Foxconn side says they went through the proper procedures while those opposed argue that it uses a false front to make it seem like a legitimate use of lake water.

If this is judged to be legitimate then what will likely happen is about 10-20 years of companies using this method to get access to lake water, while a new compact is eventually put into place to disallow it.

Lake levels are near record high currently, and causing massive amounts of erosion all along the coastline. It's actually quite interesting to watch houses, dunes, roads and other structures fall into the lake as nature does what it does. [0] Removing a few million gallons a day isn't going to hurt the the lake that much.

[0] http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/continued-erosion-...

The joke going around is: Is that a climate catastrophe or taxable waterfront property?

Cool. I bet it will be quite the feat of mid-scale engineering. So, less than 3 Olympic sized pools at 2.5 MM gallons.

An Olympic sized swimming pool is 2.5MM liters. That's roughly 660,000 gallons. So it's actually ~10 Olympic sized pools.

My mistake -- I appreciate the correction!

4.2M Gallons will be treated and returned to the lake basin.

The rest gets evaporated

Which of course means it will return as rain somewhere. I guess I don’t see what all the controversy is about.

It's a perceived lack of adherence to the Great Lakes Compact, which specifies how to manage the Great Lakes Basin's water supply.

Regulation of water withdrawal appears to be important as otherwise I don't see why the states would have gone through the effort of putting the regulations into place.

Maintaining control over withdrawal is important. I'm not sure the people complaining care about characterizing the actual impact though, there's a branch of conservation that reflexively opposes almost everything.

One of the Slashdot comments points out that billions of gallons can evaporate from the lake naturally in a day. Moving some of that to land near the lake seems like a low risk to me.

"there's a branch of conservation that reflexively opposes almost everything."

Sure. There's also a branch of business which says to screw the long-term environment health and environment consequences for short-term gains.

That these exist doesn't mean that either viewpoint has relevancy for what's going on here.

Sure. 5M gallons is a rounding error to Lake Michigan (total is a bit over 10^15 gallons). The 800k gallons that end up evaporated and aren't returned is a rounding error to a rounding error.

For reference, Lake Michigan has 1.3e15 gallons of water.

For the scientific notationally challenged, that's 1,300,000,000,000,000 gallons of water.

Incredibly, 7M gallons of water a day is a rounding error for lake Michigan.

I don't mean to minimize the impact this factory might have -- I just mean to emphasize the incredible amount of water Lake Michigan has.

While this is true, it is less impressive to have a headline of

"Foxconn to use rounding error amounts of water from lake Michigan."

And less likely to get people rallied to your cause, which I am assuming the headline/article are about.

My specific concern over use of this dynamic resource[1] is the potential environmental damage due to chemical use/handling, and potential for hazard to life and limb from this. Michigan doesn't quite have a great history with this, courtesy of other large chemical companies.

Basically hydrology impacts are the least of my concerns.

[1] see http://www.miseagrant.umich.edu/lessons/lessons/by-broad-con...

Wisconsin is the regulator in this case.

I find gallons to be an unintuitive unit of measure, so I like to convert to cubic feet because it gives a better visual sense of the volume.

7M gallons is 935,800 ft^3.

This would fill a football field 19.5 feet high.

If you made that into a cube, it would be 97.8 ft per edge.

If you convert to a flow rate, that's 10.83 ft^3/second.

I find gallon and cubic feet to be on the same level hogsheads and cubic cubits in terms of applicability and usage. There's no trouble visualising a volume unit like a litre, particularly if you're used to working with such quantities. It is tough visualising unit that have no traction outside of one metrically-solopsist region though.

Also a "football field" isn't constant between football codes (Canadian, Association, Gaelic, Australian, American, etc.) nor even between different grounds in some cases. Not a great unit.

>Also a "football field" isn't constant between football codes (Canadian, Association, Gaelic, Australian, American, etc.) nor even between different grounds in some cases. Not a great unit.

I was going full American here with American football fields (standard 300x160 feet) forgetting about the ambiguity saying "football".

I understand your frustration, but having an idea of what 7,000,000 of anything would look like is non-trivial. If it were 7,000,000 cubic meters you might re-express things to be easier to visualize.

Unfortunately for the time being, the US is using gallons, so I'm stuck making these comparisons to grasp at what that volume looks like.

>Rice is great if you're really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something. - Mitch Hedberg

I know what you mean, and I sympathise that it's a difficult problem. I suppose I tend to think of "a billion cubic metres" as more like one big cubic kilometre than a billion small things. There's some art to merging some numbers into units, but I don't know anyone who's solved it.

> I was going full American here with American football fields (standard 300x160 feet)

American football fields are 360×160 feet.

I guess end zones count. I had them excluded.

Knocks it down to 16.2 feet.

Is there some standard system of bullshit units that are notoriously underdefined and only used in shitty science/engineering documentaries? Here in Germany, commonly used bullshit units include "soccer field" for area or "VW Golf" for mass.

It's like 12 seconds of Niagara Falls (in tourist mode).

Better source that doesn't break the back button: https://gizmodo.com/foxconn-will-drain-7-million-gallons-of-...

Will they put it back?

I mean I can't imagine them holding 7 million gallons of water per day for very long before they run out of storage space.

My guess is that they will process stuff with the water, then filter and send the water back into the lake.

Does anyone know why so much water is used to manufacture LCDs ? And why can't it be in close circuit, like using an aero refrigerant tower like the ones of nuclear plants ?

Costs more, plain and simple. The state offered a generous subsidy and agreed to relax a variety of environmental regulations in order to attract Foxconn. Meeting those regulations would simply have been a financial tradeoff for the business.

The water has to be particulate-free for glass polishing. A particle the size of the wavelength of light leaves a visible scratch. I've worked with an optical polishing shop, and a lot of water is consumed just washing everything from one stage to the next.

From what I've read, LCD production is a dirty industry.

Washing and polishing the glass prior to attaching the polarization plate.

Washing the product to remove toxic compounds from the surfaces is where there is a bit of concern. https://phys.org/news/2014-12-toxic-effects-chemicals-tft-lc...

Which is why that water has to be evaporated, so the toxic solids can be put in a landfill?

This is .000018 inches off of the lake each day.

Per year, it is .0066 inches. That is about 1/6 of a millimeter.

At that rate, the lake contains 508198 years worth of water. Thinking in terms of human evolution here... that is a decent chunk of time.

This supposed problem is all FUD, based on big scary numbers. Somebody has a motive to spread this. For example, a country that wants the industry might encourage opposition in the USA.

This is a great example of why the US doesn't want manufacturing "back" even if they/we could have it. Both because this example isn't that big of a deal (but yet, has created controversy), and because if this was a big deal Americans simply would not tolerate the pollution, in exchange for the manufacturing jobs.

As other posters pointed out this is less than 3 Olympic sized swimming pools. They will also return less than 2 Olympic sized pools back to the lake.

Exactly, and there's "outrage". Imagine if it was 100 Olympic size swimming pools... The American public can't handle the biproducts of modern manufacturing.

There are multiple "American publics". The outrage machine will not like it, you are correct, but take a drive through Nevada or West Virginia and you'll see folks used to such side effects.

True, I shouldn't make the assumption that "the public" is one thing, or another in absolute terms. However, I wouldn't call it an "outrage machine" just because people are concerned about pollution/misuse of natural resources.

Clarification: the outrage machine does exist as a phenomenon in American politics. It's real.

I agree that stewardship of the environment is very important.

How much water did Boeing use during the 747s production heyday? Trying to think of a recent US manufacturing example that was truely massive.

As the say, you can't have your cake and eat it, too.

Except you often can. Acid rain regulation didn't end up costing all that much.

Happens all the time that technical improvements result in cleaner processes.

That's unsustainable.

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