The Dalles approves controversial water deal with Google

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Multi-color pipes transport water around Google’s data center in The Dalles to cool equipment.

Google

The Dalles City Council has approved an agreement to deliver an undisclosed amount of groundwater to Google, which plans to build new data centers in the city.

With the council’s unanimous vote, the tech giant has secured another key piece of its plan to expand its operation in the Columbia River Gorge. The city and Wasco County in October approved a separate agreement to significantly reduce property taxes on new Google developments.

The agreements have been the subject of rigorous debate in recent months. The water deal in particular has drawn intense scrutiny from public officials and area residents seeking to protect an increasingly precious resource.

“This has been a very difficult decision,” Councilor Darcy Long-Curtiss said before Monday’s vote. “And I had many concerns when we first started discussing the issue. I had many questions, and I was extremely skeptical myself, but as you’ve heard over the last few meetings, we’ve had all those questions answered.”

Google has plans to build up to two new data centers on the site of a former aluminum smelter in the city’s industrial district. The company owns water rights associated with the site.

Under the agreement approved Monday, Google will transfer those water rights to the city of The Dalles. Google will then pay to access the water it needs at the new facilities via the city utility.

City officials have refused to reveal how much water Google is requesting for the proposed data centers, which has been the primary frustration for area residents. The company considers water use at its facilities a proprietary trade secret and forbids disclosure.

Councilor Dan Richardson said before Monday’s vote that he would “not oppose” Google revealing details of its water use.

“I do think that would put a lot of our residents’ minds at ease if they would also be privy to some of those numbers,” Richardson said. “But the people that do need to know them do know them and feel pretty good about them, I think it’s fair to say.”

City officials have said in previous meetings that the amount of water Google is requesting for the new facilities is safely within the sustainable withdrawal limits of The Dalles groundwater aquifer.

The city is suing the state’s largest newspaper to keep Google’s water use data under wraps.

The Wasco County district attorney recently determined water use at Google facilities is public record and ordered the city to provide those records to The Oregonian/OregonLive, which requested them. The city filed a lawsuit against the paper in state court to challenge the DA’s findings.

Google praised Monday’s vote in a press release published after the meeting.

“Google’s data centers in The Dalles in Wasco County help millions of people find directions, send emails, and search for information every day,” said Kate Franko, Google’s regional head of data center public affairs. “We are proud to expand our commitment to the region and continue the cleanup of the former Superfund site, contributing to the long-term health of Wasco County’s community, economy and natural resources — while making progress toward our ambitious company-wide water stewardship and carbon-free energy goals.”

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