Google Building 2 Data Centers, Which Require Heavy Water Use, in Drought-Stricken Town

Google struck a deal Monday night with a small Oregon city to build two data centers, leaving residents worried that the buildings, which require heavy water use, will worsen the "extreme drought," the Associated Press reported.

The Dalles, located in Wasco County, is suffering extreme and exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, after the region had its hottest days on record last summer, reaching 118 degrees.

Dawn Rasmussen, who lives on the outskirts of The Dalles and has seen the water level in her well drop, said during public comments before the vote that she worries Google would have priority above residents if water becomes scarce, because of climate change, and that there won't be enough for everyone.

Dave Anderson, public works director for The Dalles, assured Rasmussen that Google would not have priority.

"I think we've identified that the highest priority is the public health and safety needs of the community. After that, there is shared curtailment," he said.

A single data center can use millions of gallons of water per day in order to keep hot-running equipment cool, and placing these facilities in drought-prone areas is bringing increasing concern around the world.

Exactly how much water the data centers will use, and how much the existing ones in The Dalles have been using, remains confidential, known only to some city officials, making some residents uneasy. While Anderson said that he cannot disclose how much water Google needs for the new data centers, he said it would be less than 3.9 million gallons per day.

Members of The Dalles City Council unanimously approved the $28.5 million deal Monday night, adding two new data centers to the three facilities Google currently has in the town. Google built its first industrial-scale data center in The Dalles in 2006.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Google Data Center
Google struck a deal Monday night with a small Oregon city to build two new data centers, leaving residents worried that the buildings, which require heavy water use, will make the “extreme drought” worse for residents. Above, the exterior of a Google data center in The Dalles, Oregon, on October 5, 2021. Andrew Selsky/Associated Press

Google spokeswoman Kate Franko, in a statement issued after the vote, underscored the public's need for data centers.

"Google's data centers in The Dalles in Wasco County help millions of people find directions, send emails, and search for information every day," said Franko, regional head of data center public affairs.

The new data centers would go on the site of a former aluminum smelter, shuttered in 1987, that emitted so much pollution it became a Superfund cleanup site. Along with Google's purchase of the property several years ago, the company also acquired the locale's rights to 3.9 million gallons of water per day.

"We are proud to expand our commitment to the region and continue the cleanup of the former Superfund site," Franko said.

Under the deal, Google will transfer its water rights to the city and will build up The Dalles' water capacity, including drilling wells, building water mains and developing an aquifer to store water and increase supply during drier periods.

The city says Google considers it a trade secret, and is fighting, via a lawsuit, a public records request for the information filed by The Oregonian/OregonLive, a Portland newspaper.

"The city comes out ahead," he said in an interview last month.

Some of the council members said they had been disparaged and insulted as they weighed whether to approve the deal. There was some opposition voiced in council meetings and on social media, but no concerted effort was launched in the city of 15,000 to obstruct the deal.

"When we receive emails and phone calls that call us names and use profanity, that's just not appreciated," Councilor Tim McGlothlin said right before the vote. "We're doing our best to represent you."

The Dalles is adjacent to the the mighty Columbia River, but the new data centers wouldn't be able to use that water and instead would take water from rivers and groundwater that has gone through the city's water treatment plant.

Three studies related to proposal—on water supply and capacity; on needed infrastructure; and on water quality—were paid for by Google, Anderson acknowledged. He said the city had a long relationship with two of the companies that did the studies and that the third was a well-established firm.

"The city...raised many questions as all three of these studies were being developed, and challenged some initial findings to be sure that our interests were met," he insisted.