The city approves Google’s data centers amid secrecy and water concerns

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SALEM, Hours. – A small Oregon town council has approved a deal with Google that will allow the tech giant to build two more water-intensive data centers, though some residents worry about drought and secrecy.

A single data center can produce millions of liters of water per day to keep hot-running equipment cool, and the placement of these facilities in drought-prone areas is a growing concern around the world, even as reliance on them is growing. Data centers form the “cloud” that helps people stream movies, conduct research at the touch of a button, purchase items, and store photos and videos.

Dalles city council members unanimously approved the $ 28.5 million deal Monday night. The new data centers would add to the three cavernous structures that Google already has in the city. Google built its first industrial-scale data center at The Dalles in 2006.

Google spokeswoman Kate Franko, in a statement released after the vote, stressed the public’s need for data centers.

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

The new data centers would go to the site of a former aluminum smelter, closed in 1987, which emitted so much pollution that it became a Superfund cleaning site. Along with Google’s purchase of the property several years ago, the company also acquired local 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,” said Franko.

Under the agreement, Google will transfer its water rights to the city and increase The Dalles’ water capacity, including drilling wells, building water pipes and developing an aquifer to store water and increase water capacity. supply during the third periods.

How much water the new data centers would use and how much the existing ones at The Dalles remained confidential, known only to some city officials and the city council, making some residents uncomfortable. The city says Google considers it a trade secret and is fighting, via a lawsuit, a request for public documents for the information filed by The Oregonian / OregonLive, a Portland newspaper.

Dave Anderson, director of public works at The Dalles, said that while he can’t reveal how much water Google needs for the new data centers, he said it would be less than 3.9 million gallons a day.

“The city comes forward,” he said in an interview last month.

Some board members said they were vilified and insulted as they considered approving the deal. There has been some expressed opposition in board meetings and on social media, but no concerted effort has been launched in the city of 15,000 to thwart the deal.

“When we get emails and phone calls that insult us and use vulgarity, that’s not appreciated,” said Councilor Tim McGlothlin shortly before the vote. “We are doing our best to represent you.”

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

Dawn Rasmussen, who lives on the outskirts of The Dalles and has seen the water level of her well drop, said in public comments shortly before the vote that she fears Google may shove residents aside if water gets this scarce. , due to climate change, that there is not enough for everyone.

Anderson assured her that the tech giant would not be given priority.

“I think we have identified that the highest priority is public health and the safety needs of the community. After that, there is a shared reduction, “he said.

The concerns are understandable in The Dalles, the county seat of Wasco County, which is suffering from an extreme and exceptional drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. The region endured the hottest days on record last summer, reaching 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) in The Dalles.

Three studies related to the proposal – on water supply and capacity; on the necessary infrastructure; and water quality – they 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 company.

“The city … raised a lot of questions during the development of all three of these studies and challenged some initial results to make sure our interests were met,” he insisted.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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