Monday, February 6, 2023

City OKs Google data center amid privacy, water concerns

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The council of a small Oregon city has approved a deal with Google that will enable the technology giant to build two more water-consuming data centers there, though some residents are facing droughts. And there are privacy concerns.

A single data center can churn out millions of gallons of water per day to keep hot-running equipment cool, and keeping these facilities in drought-prone areas is a growing concern around the world, even in those dependency is also increasing. Data centers make up the “cloud” that helps people stream movies, do research, buy things, and store photos and videos at the touch of a button.

Members of the Dales City Council unanimously approved the $28.5 million deal on Monday night. The new data centers will be in addition to the three dangerous facilities Google already has in the city. Google built its first industrial-scale data center in 2006 in The Dells.

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

“Google’s data centers in The Dells in Vasco County help millions of people find directions, send emails and find information,” said Franco, regional head of data center public affairs.

The new data centers will visit the site of a former aluminum smelter, which was closed in 1987, causing so much pollution that it became a Superfund cleanup site. With the purchase of the property by Google several years ago, the company also acquired the local rights to 3.9 million gallons of water per day.

“We are proud to extend our commitment to the region and continue cleaning up the former Superfund site,” said Franco.

Under the deal, Google will transfer its water rights to the city and build The Dales’ water capacity, including drilling wells, building a water main and developing an aquifer to store water and supplies during drying periods. Includes augmentation.

How much water the new data centers will use, and how much the existing ones in The Dales are using, remains confidential, something known only to city officials and the city council – making some residents uncomfortable. The city says Google considers it a trade secret, and is fighting through a lawsuit, a public records request for information filed by The Oregonian/OregonLive, a Portland newspaper.

Dave Anderson, The Dales’ public works director, said that although he could not disclose how much water Google needs for the new data centers, he said it would be less than 3.9 million gallons per day.

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

Some council members said they were humiliated and insulted because they were weighed in approving the deal. There was some protest at council meetings and on social media, but no concerted effort in the city of 15,000 to obstruct the deal.

“When we receive emails and phone calls that call us by name and use profanity, it is not appreciated,” Counselor Tim McGlothlin said just before the vote. “We’re doing our best to represent you.”

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

Don Rasmussen, who lives on the outskirts of The Dalles and has watched the water level in his well, said during public comments just before the vote that he worries if the water drops that much because of climate change. So Google will alienate residents, that’s not enough for everyone.

Anderson assured him that the tech giant would not have a priority.

“I think we have recognized that the top priority needs to be public health and the safety of the community. After that, there are shared reductions,” he said.

According to the US Drought Monitor, the concerns are understandable in The Dalles, the seat of Vasco County, which is suffering from extreme and exceptional droughts. Last summer the region endured its hottest days on record, reaching 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 Celsius) in The Dales.

Three studies related to the proposal – on water supply and capacity; on the necessary infrastructure; And on water quality — Google had paid for it, Anderson acknowledged. He said the city had a long relationship with two of the companies he studied and the third was a well-established firm.

“The city … raised many questions as all three of these studies were being developed, and challenged some of the initial findings to ensure that our interests were met,” he stressed.


Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter


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