Monday, December 19, 2022

Oregon, My Oregon

Google Sneaks The Dalles water. The Blaze, 'Eco-conscious' Google data center gobbled up nearly 300 million gallons of Oregon city's water amid droughts, tried to keep it secret

Google says it seeks to "foster sustainability at scale" and to reduce the "environmental impact" of its operations. The tech giant also claims to provide "critical information ... in moments of crisis."

When the residents of The Dalles, Oregon, attempted to figure out precisely how much of their water was being used by the local Google data center amid a drought affecting over 540,000 residents in the state, the city sued on the company's behalf to keep the amount a secret.

That lawsuit was dropped this week and with it the veil hiding the full extent of Google's water consumption.

Google released its annual water metrics for 2021, revealing that it had consumed 274.5 million gallons of water last year. It withdrew 358.3 million gallons and only discharged 83.8 million gallons.

I find that hard to believe. Did they evaporate the rest? 

According to John Devoe, the executive director of WaterWatch, that's enough water to cover the city's seven square miles in water 3 inches deep.

What are the details?

Last year, Google demanded more water to cool its data centers and indicated it planned to build additional server farms along the Columbia River. This prompted some local residents, particularly farmers, to worry.

After all, according to Water Footprint Calculator, a 15-megawatt data center can use up to 360,000 gallons of water a day for the purposes of cooling servers that get hot during use. Google has admitted that its average data center consumes roughly 450,000 gallons of water per day.

That's a lot of water at during the worst megadrought in Oregon and the Western U.S. on record.

Citing transparency concerns and the public's right to know, the Oregonian, the state's biggest newspaper, pressed the issue.

Ahead of a city council vote last fall on a $28.5 million water pact with Google — whereby the company would be entitled to more water after paying to upgrade the city's water system — the city sued the paper on the tech giant's behalf to keep that information from spilling out.

The suit claimed that the company's water consumption data "are exempt from disclosure as 'trade secrets' ... because (a) the information is not patented; (b) the information is used in Design's business and is known only to certain individuals within the company; (c) the information has actual or potential commercial value; (d) if disclosed, the information would give its users an opportunity to obtain a business advantage over Design's competitors who do not know or use it; and (e) the public interest does not demand disclosure in the particular instance."

The Dalles is located on the Columbia River, on the eastern (dry) side of the Cascades, so lack of water should not be an insoluble problem. However, it appears that most of the city's water supply comes from a smaller creek that comes down out of the mountains around the Dalles. One could easily imagine that becoming substantially depleted during a dry spell.  

I don't really have any issue with Google doing this. Certainly, the city knew what it was doing when it sold the water to Google. Since the water that goes through cooling systems really doesn't need to meet drinking water standards, it might make more sense for Google to have it's own treatment plant, and use Columbia River water to cool it's data center. As for the secrecy, I think it was unnecessary, but Google might think differently.


  1. The public interest should certainly outweigh Google's interest during a drought or water shortage.

  2. How does a data center actually consume water? Especially water to cool? Lot's of steam at their data centers?