Residents consider what Google data center expansion means in The Dalles

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THE DALLES, Ore. (KPTV) – A decision that could have a major impact on the future water supply in The Dalles will be in the hands of the city council on Monday evening.

The question: Allow Google to expand or prevent it? An expansion of the already existing data centers in the town would mean the company using more city water.

City council member Dan Richardson is pondering this decision.

“To my reading the utilities agreement, the water agreement is all to the good for us,” he said.

This has been a long process between Google and the city. It’s been about two years of negotiating to come up with the current agreement for Google’s new data centers the city council will vote on.

That agreement includes turning over water rights to groundwater on the property, also known as an aquifer, beneath the Earth’s surface. Those rights would then go to the city in exchange for Google having its water demands met.

The city said the amount Google is requesting is less than the total amount of 3.9 million gallons a day the city is gaining. But it wouldn’t say the exact amount Google is requesting because it says it’s a trade secret.

“It’s counterintuitive, but I think the city is going to be better off for expanding our water system, our water supply, our water storage and having a more resilient or redundant water system,” Richardson said.

The agreement includes Google building the infrastructure to make the aquifer active. It would also foot the bill for an aquifer storage and recovery system at the same site. The system would allow more water to be stored in the city’s water supply.

Google is paying for $28.5 million dollars in additions to the city’s water system through the water rights on its location.

The Dalles public works director Dave Anderson says this was very attractive in the proposal from Google.

“Having a wider variety and greater number of water sources is a benefit to the city to be able to meet future water demands,” Anderson said.

But not everyone is on board with what Google is doing. Residents like John Zrelak want to make sure they have enough water and wonder how long Google’s water use is sustainable.

“They do use a lot of water for their generators, to cool off whatever they have,” he said. “Which impacts the community in that there’s only so much water.”

In a statement Google said:

We’re proud to call The Dalles home to our first-ever data center. As of October 25th, Wasco County and city of The Dalles approved a strategic investment program agreement with Google, paving the way for our continued growth in the region. We’re excited to continue conversations with local officials to finalize an infrastructure agreement, which would support the long-term health of The Dalles’ economy and increase net water quality and supply.

Google says its aquifer storage and recovery system is aimed to increase water quality and supplies in The Dalles.

John DeVoe is the executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon. He’s concerned about how the increased demand will impact the environment around The Dalles.

“It seems that fish and wildlife and healthy rivers and sustainable aquifer yields usually are sacrificed when an entity like this wants to increase its operations in a region,” DeVoe said.

Some in The Dalles say Google has been a great neighbor ever since it first opened data centers in 2006.

Those include the owner of Gorge Academy of Cosmetology and massage Kerri Weed.

“Every time we’re doing a community event they’re part of it,” Weed said. “They’ve got a lot of people in town that come in for services. We’ve had a lot of their employees in for services.”

Weed said she’s glad the company is part of the local economy.

“It shows growth in our community,” she said. “That’s what our community needs. It needs growth. They are probably paying taxes just like all of us are paying taxes.”

Mayor Rich Mays said he’s in favor of the agreement for Google to expand. He said the new data centers should bring in $125 million to the economy over the next 20 years.

“Through the property taxes they will be paying and the other fees they’re going to be paying to the community that’s going to be revenue coming into this town that will do nothing but help the community,” Mays said.

For the rest of The Dalles city council, they are taking the time to listen to all sides. Richardson said it’s a chance to consider what The Dalles might look like in the future as technology companies continue to expand their footprint.

“This is not a one-time question,” he said. “We need to structure these agreements and continue to be mindful about our resources next year, ten years and 20 years from now.”

The city council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. on Monday. You can find a link to watch it live here.

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