The city of The Dalles sues newspaper to keep Google’s water usage secret

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The city of The Dalles is located around 80 miles east of Portland, and from the online photos we’ve seen, it is amazingly beautiful. Google already operates a data center in The Dalles but is looking to expand its data center capacity by building new data centers in the small community.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The town is home to almost 15,000 residents, and according to OregonLive, Google currently employs around 200 people in its existing data center. The new data centers Google is planning will require a more extensive water capacity to operate.

Most users probably do not realize the energy and natural resources it takes to run immense data centers like Google already has in The Dalles. Data centers need to be cooled so that the server farms don’t overheat, which takes water.

The city of The Dalles and Google have already entered into an agreement that sees Google paying US$28.5 million to bring the city’s water system up to snuff so that Google’s data centers can operate. According to OregonLive, Google stands to gain tax breaks in the deal as well. Due to the need for more water, Google would not be able to build new data centers here if this deal were to fall through.

The city is seeking to overturn a ruling earlier this month from Wasco County’s district attorney, who found Google’s water use is a public record and ordered The Dalles to provide that information to The Oregonian/OregonLive. The city sued the news organization Friday, asking a judge to intervene.

OregonLive
Google's current data center, in The Dalles, is located on the Columbia River.
Google’s current data center, in The Dalles, is located on the Columbia River.

Residents and farmers are concerned with the water supply due to a drought in the area and want to know more about how Google uses water and why they need more capacity. The city wants to keep the terms and Google’s water usage private, citing that Google’s water usage is a “trade secret.”

Regardless of how the city’s suit plays out, the litigation won’t be resolved before the city council votes on Google’s water deal on the evening of Nov. 8. That means the public won’t have access to that information, though city council members do.

“It seems pretty uncomfortable to be negotiating with somebody who can just claim trade secrets on all of their activities, that is only known to a few of you but not the rest of us,” Dalles resident Bruce Schwartz told the city council at a meeting on the water deal last month.

The Dalles says Google would use just a portion of the additional water capacity, giving the city more water for its residents and industry. Amid a prolonged drought, though, residents and farmers have expressed worry that the deal might strain the city’s water supply rather than boost it.

OregonLive

This story hasn’t been covered all that much in mainstream media, and it is fascinating and sheds light on just how energy-hungry a data center is. Most of these data centers are built in rural and small-town areas, and the lure of big tech money is hard to resist. But many residents and landowners in these areas are starting to feel the negative impact these data centers can have. It is important to note that Google isn’t the only tech company that uses these data centers. You can read extensive coverage about The Dalles lawsuit and Google’s deal with them at OregonLive.

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Last Updated on November 2, 2021.

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