Google datacenters use 'a quarter of all water' in one US city

Thirsty officials drained of arguments after media outlet legal battle to free the information

Google has disclosed how much water its datacenters consume, following a legal battle between a local media outlet and the city of The Dalles in Oregon, which sought to keep the information confidential.

The figures show that the search giant consumed 274.5 million gallons (about 1.2 billion liters) of water during 2021 at its facilities in The Dalles alone. This is dwarfed by the 845.8 million gallons (3.8 billion liters) consumed by Google datacenter infrastructure at Council Bluffs in Iowa.

Overall, Google's consumption of water across the US during 2021 accounted for 3.3 billion gallons (12.4 billion liters), with “additional global locations” (ie, the rest of the world) representing an extra 971 million gallons (4.4 billion liters).

This may sound like a lot (and it is), but to put it in perspective, Google claims that the total annual water consumption of its datacenter operations is comparable to the water footprint of 29 golf courses in the southwest US.

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


These figures also refer to potable water, and do not include other sources such as seawater, Google said.

The case was touted as a major test of Oregon public records law by media outlet The Oregonian, which requested the information from Google last year, as The Register reported. It has been involved for the past 13 months in a legal case with the city of The Dalles, which argued on behalf of the search giant that the details should be considered a trade secret.

However, city officials decided to drop the case and provide past water use data for Google and agreed to provide annual water usage in future years.

According to The Oregonian, water use by the search giant at the facilities in The Dalles has nearly tripled in the past five years, and it claims that Google’s datacenters now consume more than a quarter of all the water used in the city.

This situation is unlikely to improve in the near future, since the company has already submitted plans for a further two datacenters to be located at The Dalles.

However, this does highlight the increasing concern around the world over the environmental impact of the massive bit barns operated by companies like Google.

A recent report from the Uptime Institute pointed out that datacenter operators are aware of this and aiming to up their efforts in anticipation of reporting on sustainability metrics becoming mandatory in some jurisdictions over the next five years. Currently, only about half report their water usage or datacenter carbon dioxide emissions, it said.

In the UK, Thames Water, which serves parts of London and the Thames Valley, announced earlier this year that it has begun efforts to try and quantify how much water is being used by datacenters within its area of coverage, and said it wanted to work with operators to reduce their overall water usage.

Google is also a signatory to the Climate Neutral Datacenter Pact (CNDCP), an initiative involving datacenter operators and trade bodies as part of the European Green Deal. In July, the signatories presented the European Commission with proposals for minimizing the volume of water used in their datacenters. However, they also have until 2040 to achieve compliance with the new metrics it proposes. ®

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