back to article Oregon city courting Google data centers fights to keep their water usage secret

Google says responsible water usage is one of its top sustainability goals but the mega-corp tries to keep its data center water usage secret. The City of The Dalles is located on the Columbia River in Wasco County, Oregon, and is the home of a major Google data center. The ad giant is looking at expanding its presence there …

  1. Mark 85

    "... Not to be outdone, Google, in its 2021 Water Stewardship whitepaper [PDF], says by 2030 it "will replenish 120 per cent of the water we consume, on average, across our offices and data centers … where we operate.""

    So where are they getting the 20% more water to return then they draw out? Not like they can get it out of thin air. I realize that many of these places use the water, some dump the return into the river, others it evaporates. But still... where's the 20% coming from? I don't think it just going to magically appear.

    1. Jon 37
      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Except that much of Oregon is experiencing a historically bad drought - about a quarter of the state is in the worst "exceptional drought" category. The particular city in question is in the "severe drought" category.

        1. Jon 37

          They said it was an average across all their sites. Large rainy sites will be more, desert sites will be less.

      2. FILE_ID.DIZ

        Employee pee?

        1. SCP

          I wonder if that will mean that cubicle workers will not be penalised for taking loo breaks?

          1. MiguelC Silver badge

            They would be penalized for not taking loo breaks

    2. T. F. M. Reader

      I could only think of hydrogen fuel powering the data centres. However, where will they get hydrogen from in the first place? Water?

    3. Alumoi Silver badge

      Beer. See icon.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      I would think a lot depends on exactly how they are using the water. If they evaporatice cooling on the roof, then just how much of the original drawn off water can be returned? Likewise, if they have any de-humidifying air-con, that could put a small amount of water back into the system from the ambient air. But I'm struggling to think of how they could put 100% back, let alone 120%.

    5. Graybyrd

      Native American

      Google will lobby for gov't minority employment assistance funds to hire troupes of Navajo and Hopi rain dancers.

    6. bombastic bob Silver badge

      we have the technology...

      I would suggest building de-sal plants if you need more water. There's a really big ocean out there, after all. There's also waste water recycling, sometimes (jokingly) called "toilet to tap", though the effluent treated water is USUALLY cleaner than regular tap water (regardless of whether it was excreted from someone's kidneys).

      In a 1st world country there is NO excuse for a shortage of water, ESPECIALLY when you are near the ocean. If you do not have enough, you MAKE MORE. SImple.

      San Diego County has a de-sal plant that provides a significant amount of water for the region (I think it is around 20% of total water usage). If more of these plants are built, droughts affecting water availability would be a thing of the past.

      1. swm

        Re: we have the technology...

        I think this is the Carlsbad desalinization plant. But these plants consume a lot of energy which has to come from somewhere. So it is a trade-off.

        1. ricegf

          Re: we have the technology...

          Hydroelectric, inevitably.

    7. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: So where are they getting the 20% more water to return then they draw out?

      They probably have a carefully crafted definition of consume which means significantly less than the amount of water they draw to operate, thus making it possible to return 120% of consumed water .

      That or it's a PR droid brainfart.

  2. C. P. Cosgrove

    But how much of that water is lost to the ecology of Oregon ? It is just being run through a system of pipes and released again. A common sight in the UK used to be pillars of steam rising from cooling towers attached to coal fired power stations and this steam was lost to the immediate ecology since the evaporated water seldom fell as rain in the immediate area but the majority of the water used was released back into rivers and such like.

    Piping the sort of volumes referred to is not a trivial cost and the tax payers are entitled to be given the cost benefit data as they are the ones paying for it, and it would be reasonable to expect a commercial company to pay a commercial rate for its water supply but I fail to see how this affects the overall water supply in Oregon. It is possible that this water is no longer considered fit for human consumption but it is surely available for irrigation and similar uses. It is not as though it is being used for processing purpose as used in a chip fab or a steel works which do result in considerable contamination of the water used.

    Chris Cosgrove

    1. JDPower666

      Ooh, a post from Chris Cosgrove! Thanks Chris Cosgrove, that post has so much more meaning now we know it was written by Chris Cosgrove.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Fuck off

        Cheers... Ishy

      2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Some people really are bothered by the strangest things. Thank you for adding so much to the discussion.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > But how much of that water is lost to the ecology of Oregon ?

      That's not the problem - the problem is that if the water is evaporated away as steam then it is no longer in the river, with the consequent effect on river ecology and downstream water users.

      And even if the cooling water was simply pumped round the servers and back out into the river with no evaporation, it would come out hot enough to change the ecology of the river for a few miles.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not all water is potable water, but only potable water is used for cooling at Dalles.

      > "I fail to see how this affects the overall water supply in Oregon"


      "[ Google Data Center, The Dalles Oregon]

      Google has negotiated an agreement with The Dalles that would substantially boost the water available through The Dalles Public Works – and, in turn, the volume of water available to cool Google’s enormous server farms. Google would pay the $28.5 million cost of the upgrade to the city’s water treatment and storage facilities under the agreement. In addition, Google has negotiated a new package of tax breaks that would exempt its data centers from much of the property taxes that other businesses pay.

      The Dalles Mayor Richard Mays said the new deal would require Google to pay about $57 million in property taxes and fees over two decades for the first of the new data centers, and approximately $66 million more over 20 years if it builds a second data center.

      That would be a substantial boost in revenue for the historic community in the Columbia River Gorge, but the deal would continue excusing Google from much of its property tax bill.

      But some residents and city officials are skeptical of the new deals, too, partly because details were negotiated behind closed doors and some details of the agreement remain oddly secret. The Dalles won’t say, for example, how much of the expanded water supply it expects Google will consume. This is concerning to members of the community.

      Google is paying for the expansion, handing over some of its water rights, and will pay the same rates as other industrial customers for the water it uses. Since 2008, Google has awarded over $2 million in grants that impact Wasco County and more than $10 million in grants to Oregon nonprofits and schools. In the long run, the expanded Google data centers will provide The Dalles community with more water, additional jobs, and lots more Cloud Storage for your Aunt Edith’s cat photos. Scrutiny remains, but such is the nature of progress."


      City of The Dalles is right on the large Columbia River. However, the towns drinking water does not come from the Columbia River ...


      "The drinking water for the City of The Dalles is supplied by three groundwater wells and two surface water intakes located on South Fork Mill Creek and Dog River. The Dalles' public water system serves approximately 11,350 citizens."


      So I could see a potential worry about a minor water source being drawn beyond it's capacity, especially in case of persistent drought. (I don't think "lost from the environment" addresses the problem).

      I wonder if google could instead use water directly from the Columbia River for cooling?

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: Not all water is potable water, but only potable water is used for cooling at Dalles.

        They COULD use grey water... but:

        Depending on the quality of 'grey water' keep in mind that water used for cooling towers will affect the atmosphere in the area if there are bacteria etc. in it. Legionaire's Disease came from a cooling towere that had bad bacteria in the water.

        Decades ago I worked at a hotel and the air conditioning used a cooling tower. We put a floating pool chlorinater in it to maintain the correct water chemistry. But yeah Legionaire's Disease was recently on people's minds back then, yet the precautions to prevent it were not all that hard.

        I suppose if the grey water is as clean as the tap water, it would work well enough for cooling towers. Properly chlorinated, of course.

  3. Dante Alighieri


    if only there was a system that incentivised declaring use

    $$$$ per unit water publicly undeclared

    $ declared

    a tax break of sorts...

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. G R Goslin

    I don't think we're seeing the whole story, here

    Water for cooling can be used in at least three ways. The first to use the water for the transport of heat, as in a car engine/radiator scenario. In this the net use of water is at, or near zero. The second is to dump the heat into the water, and discard the lot, The third, to use evaporative cooling to carry away the heat, where the quantity of water is indicative of the net energy discarded. Again, the quality of the water is another point. In many cases, the water supplied by the authority, is of high quality, and potable, at considrable cost, over water gained from rivers, etc. with minimal treatment. A company that I once worked for, used vast quantities of water for cooling. It was not unusual to find three taps above a sink, hot/cold/non-potable. Large customers, such as in this case are keen to buy treated water, but at the un-treated price. The common taxpayer, in effect subsidising the commercial user

    1. ronkee

      Re: I don't think we're seeing the whole story, here

      It's evaporative. Used in the condensers of the air conditioning.

      Saves a lot of electricity. So it's an environmental trade off.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: I don't think we're seeing the whole story, here

        It's only a tradeoff if it's grey water.

        Using potable water in an evaporative cooling system is simply wrong, as a huge amount of energy went into making it potable.

    2. Marty McFly Silver badge

      Re: I don't think we're seeing the whole story, here

      Around 80,000 cubic feet of 55 degree water flows through The Dalles PER SECOND. Do y'all really think Google can make a dent in that?

      This story is a non-issue.

  6. Martin Gregorie

    I admire water usage in Abu Dhabi, if not its source

    Abu Dhabi sits on a large, and very deep sand spit, so there is no nearby natural source of fresh water. But, they have oil coming out their ears, so all the city's mains water is the result of burning some of the Emirate's oil to distill seawater. That's the less admirable bit since it emits a lot of carbon dioxide , but they have little choice apart from using solar stills, and its likely they looked at that pretty carefully before deciding to run the fresh water system on oil.

    Anyway, water from the distillation plant tastes flat and horrible, so its first use is to flow through the many splendid fountains along the Corniche and in city parks.

    This water, now aerated and nice-tasting is collected and filtered. Its second use is for drinking and washing in the homes, hotels and palaces of the city.

    In turn, waste water collected from basins, showers and baths is again collected and treated to remove insolubles and microbes, etc. Its third use is to flush the city's toilets.

    Sewage is collected and run through a conventional treatment works, but nutrients are not removed. This nutrient-rich effluent is then sent to a 'sand farming' area, where it is used to irrigate crops growing in large sand beds.

    This all seems to be almost infinitely preferable to what goes on in the UK: waste water from every source is all mixed together and sent to the local sewage treatment works. Too big a flow, such as during a rain storm, for the works to handle? Never mind. Just bung the overflow, untreated, into the local river where it mixes with the fully treated waterworks outflow.This mixture then flows down the river to the next town, where the whole process repeats ad infinitum, or at least until the flow reaches the sea.

    So, in summary, Abu Dhabi has its disadvantages as a place to live, but there's no question that its water is cleaner and nicer than here.

    1. Tom 7

      Re: I admire water usage in Abu Dhabi, if not its source

      "but they have little choice apart from using solar stills, and its likely they looked at that pretty carefully before deciding to run the fresh water system on oil."????????????

      I doubt they thought about it for more than two seconds. They are an oil producer so they have to use oil. Using solar stills would just encourage others to do the same and fuck up their marker.

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: I admire water usage in Abu Dhabi, if not its source

      "but they have little choice apart from using solar stills"

      They do have a choice, that whole smegging city should simply NOT BE THERE!

      The only way that place can stay in existence is by burning extremely large amounts of oil and oil dollars to spend silly money on keeping the aircon and taps running. And many of the high-rise buildings aren't even connected to the sewer so they have to transport it to the treatment plant by ruttin' truck!

      IMHO if a place is too hot or dry to live in without enormous expenditure of energy for air cooling and water treatment, maybe people should simply not be living there.

  7. W.S.Gosset

    Perspective: Red Oak centre's water

    That one data centre is using 1.18 sydarbs. Per year.

    That's fukken HUGE.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Perspective: Red Oak centre's water

      I've been wondering for a while now how much energy is needed for our "easy" cloud storage - creating data locally, transmitting it a distance, storing it and then accessing it instantly means that there's a hell of a lot of storage working all the time somewhere, and potentially backed up somewhere else too ... you think that might need a little energy?

      Climate change is coming - maybe the clouds need to move.

  8. John Savard


    I am well aware that California has serious problems with water.

    But Oregon? I thought it was lush with constant rain, almost like Washington State to its north.

    However, I know there was a concern in Oregon that too many people from California might move there, causing problems. Perhaps this is why; Oregon's water supplies are not as copious as I thought.

    1. Old Used Programmer

      Re: Astonished

      Historically, west of the Cascades is the "lush, green" part, while east of the Cascades is desert. Same thing in Washington state.

      The one that gets me is the plan to build a fab in Arizona. Fabs are notorious for the amount of water they use. Where in Arizona are you going to get all that water over and above what they're using now?

      1. skeptical i

        Re: Astonished

        re: "the plan to build a fab in Arizona .... Where in Arizona are you going to get all that water"

        Same place Arizona gets water for all the golf courses, water parks, mining operations, and other stuff that some Bright Sparks think are necessary for economic development. It all comes from that river -- deNial, I think it's called?

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Astonished

      every few decades NW USA gets droughts. Usually it is VERY rainy. But here's the thing: they are under contract to provide water for parts of California, and the contracts may not account for drought periods (as rare as they are, they still happen). In the mid-1970's I recall this happening before, and there was a bit of reform since water got rationed in Oregon while people in LA were hosing down their cars, and of course there was quite a bit of outrage. So yeah, the supply dropped a bit, but the demand stays about the same. And (probably) nobody takes responsibility for the poor planning.

      After a year or two, beyond the El Niño and La Niña effects, it should be back to normal. But they need to plan for it and not ignore history. And California needs to stop feeding its limited drinking water to the delta smelt...

      (/me bombastically points out that if delta smelt are as delicious as sardines, people would farm them and like cows, we'd NEVER run out, and it would take a LOT LESS WATER do farm them than to dump our limited drinking water into the Sacramento river to "save" them. So let's come up with some good recipes...)

  9. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    The good old

    The ad giant is looking at expanding its presence there and has been granted tax breaks to do so


    If only it was possible to stop using Google services.

    Because we can forget about getting justice.

  10. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Cloud hosted water supply

    The Google datacenter is pretty easy to spot on satellite images in the NW corner of town. Enormous jets of steam can be seen coming out of two large buildings using Google Street View.

  11. joed

    simple math problem

    while the issue demonstrates major issue America faces (corporatism), with elected (?) officials working against their own electorate, I think that instead of asking for "trade secret" info, someone should get total water production data and usage of all other customers. What's left will be Google's cloud dirty secrets (I bet all is powered by clean renewable energy diverted from other more essential purposes).

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Google is not alone

      Nestle is doing the same thing all over the USA (And probably beyond)

      The latest case is in Florida which is already short of water (despite it almost surrounding the state, it is the wrong sort of water)

      Then in Northern California they are extracting so much water that they are endangering the whole ecosystem of a river. They simply don't care... just like Google.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    21st century

    Now in the 21st century they are still using WATER to cool some electronics? and then just dump the heat?

    Oh I forgot, freons are bad, bad (if they ever get to the ozone layer at 80000 feet and up).

    Why is this heat not used for homes and public buildings? or for some other industrial processes that need it? or put this datacenter where you need the heat for deicing the roads, like Canada.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: 21st century

      the lightest of CFCs is chloro-flouro-methane. It's about 2.5 times heavier than air. To get it to go UP you need a VOLCANO. I have worked with refrigerants and when I was in the Navy, a valve snapped of one of the air conditioning units while the boat was in port.; It took the ventilation system over 24 hours to get it out, and they had to put portable air blowers in the lower areas of the engine room to stir the air up enough, because REFRIGERANT IS SO HEAVY compared to air. And if you can't easily make it go up less than 50 feet, how the HELL does it go up 80,000 feet?

      So yes, exactly what you said about refrigerant and ozone. In a lab it depletes ozone. In the atmosphere the CFC-like chemicals are put up there by VOLCANOS. If you calculate like for a hot air balloon, you would have to heat the lightest CFC to over 1200F to get it to rise up, and of course it would either break down or cool off before getting there.

      But using CFCs to cool things down happens inside the building, most likely, making chilled water, and using cooling towers to reject the waste heat that is "heat pumped" by the chillers. The chillers themselves typically use CFCs (some use LiBr but those would use engine jacket water and exhaust cooling water from a cogen system). Then they have waste heat that uses a cooling tower. That's how I've seen it done when i worked at a hotel decades ago.

      So: chiller makes chilled water at 50-55F on one end, and heats the cooling water (on the other end of the chillers) which leaves at 80-85F (sometimes hotter) and goes into a partially evaporative cooling tower in a semi-closed system, but of course you get evaporation etc..

      So yeah that is the typical design. And cogen systems still need cooling towers.

      1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

        Re: 21st century

        CFCs have amazing wetting abilities so they get everywhere very quickly. It can soak into organics and metal oxides. Getting it all out of a room after a spill/venting would be no easy task.

  13. JWLong


    Data centers are cooled using ammonia gas. The gas is cooled using water instead of air. Direct cooling of air with water is called a swamp cooler, and you do not want to that.

    Once water is used in any process it is considered non-potable and can not be dumped back into the water table. That's why there are cooling towers (actually evaporators) to get rid of the water.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Ammonia

      some of what you say, yeah, but not entirely accurate. still in principal you're in the right ball park.

      Think of it this way: air conditioners are heat pumps. you compress a fluid or concentrate a salt, and then cool it (the 'hot' side, cooling tower or radiator fins). Then you expand the fluid or dilute the salt, causing it to get colder, and then it absorbs heat from the chilled air/water system (getting warmer in the process), and the cycle repeats.

      Using an air-only radiator causes a size problems in large systems due to the large amount of heat that needs to be rejected. So, unlike a refrigerator or air conditioner in your house (or car/RV), they need to cool it using water and use a cooling tower to get rid of that large amount of heat.

      They're not really getting rid of the water, though. They''re rejecting the heat. The water evaporates as part of the process. This process still works even in areas that have high temp+humidity so long as the chillers are designed to still work efficiently with very hot cooling water [like maybe in Florida].

  14. andrewmm

    Its a commercial choice how they cool

    If they are using water / evaporation to cool ?

    then they have chosen not to spend the money / energy on compressor coolers to air,

    which take more energy ,

    but save water

    Shows the green part of there image as a falsify

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The corporate elite will always survive

    Johnny Pleb can take his chances…..

  16. man_iii

    Blood for the blood god

    Why has noone thought of 1 pint of blood from each employee per day!!! Think of the water capital and plasma and blood bank -sic- literal blood letting to boost profits!!!

    And you could use IV systems plugged into sendentary employees stuck at a desk for 12 hours and use the IV to extract waste purify blood and active human cooling and based on performance pump glucose and adrenaline and stuff that make you feel rewarding?dopamine? serotonin?oxycontin?something? And you get work done and no breaks needed AND happy people working overtime for the company.

    /sarcasm just in case i get mistaken.

  17. Hannah Vernon

    how much?

    How many Olympic Size Swimming Pools is 5 billion gallons? Seems the Reg's Department of Weights and Measures wasn't consulted for this article. Tsk tsk.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: how much?

      and a problem we'd never have in proper Reg units. Is that imperial, US gallons, US dry gallons, Winchester or Corn Gallon, Henry VII (Winchester) corn gallon from 1497 onwards, Elizabeth I corn gallon from 1601 onwards, William III corn gallon from 1697 onwards, Old English (Elizabethan) Ale Gallon, Old English (Queen Anne) Wine gallon, London 'Guildhall' gallon (before 1688), Jersey gallon (from 1562 onwards), Guernsey gallon (17th century origins till 1917) or Irish Gallon?

      Atleast with olympic size swimming pools we can point to FINA rules.

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