Google The Dalles Oregon: Residents of The Dalles, Oregon gain access to Google's water consumption data following lawsuit settlement

Jan 03, 2023 | Posted by MadalineDunn

Those living in drought-prone The Dalles, Oregon, home to Google’s massive data centers, now know how much water the giant has consumed. This information, previously kept a secret by city officials, has been released following a legal fight funded by Google and launched by the city against The Oregonian/OregonLive. Officials had pursued the legal fight for thirteen months. Now, The Dalles Mayor Richard Mays says they decided to “back off” from the lawsuit after Google changed its stance on keeping records a “trade secret” based on concerns competitors would learn more about its cooling processes.

In a settlement, The Dalles agreed to provide ten years of water use data for Google and provide annual water usage going forward. Speaking about the importance of this kind of transparency, John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon, a conservation organization, said that as water is a public resource, the public “deserves to know how much water is used — and from what sources — by those who take water from rivers and streams and pump water from aquifers.”

The data shows that Google’s data centers now suck up more than a quarter of all the water used in the city. Further to this, in 2021, Google’s facilities consumed 355.1 million gallons of water, a figure which has increased gradually since 2012, when the data centers were found to guzzle 104.3 million gallons of water. The city’s overall water use has skyrocketed since 2002, and between 2002 to 2021, it doubled.

Since Google built its first data center in 2005, it has received tax breaks worth at least $260 million, and although the Dalles is based along the Columbia River, it is under federal jurisdiction and off limits to new industrial customers. This means that the giant’s data centers rely on rivers and groundwater that has gone through the city’s water treatment plant.

Commenting on the giant’s move to make its water consumption numbers public knowledge, Google spokesperson Devon Smiley said: “It is one example of the importance of transparency, which we are aiming to increase ... which includes site-level water usage numbers for all our U.S. data center sites, including The Dalles.” 

Aside from leading to Google committing to publishing its water usage data, the settlement will also see The Dalles will pay $53,000 for legal costs for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the nonprofit advocacy group representing The Oregonian/OregonLive in the case.