The facility uses almost one third of the municipal water supply for the city.

Google’s water use in Dalles, Oregon, has nearly tripled in the past five years. That’s according to records released this week after the city settled a lawsuit against The Oregonian/OregonLive and agreed to hand over data on Google’s water consumption. In fact, the records indicate that the company’s data centers now consume more than a quarter of all the water used in the city.

At first look, it is easy to see why there is concern about the water. The Dalles sits along the Columbia River, but the area itself is in a meteorologically dry region with very minimal annual rainfall. The water situation has also been exacerbated by a multi-year drought cycle that has caused trouble for its local farmers and fishers. 

“If the data center water use doubles or triples over the next decade, it’s going to have serious effects on fish and wildlife on source water streams”, John DeVoe, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group WaterWatch, told Oregon Live. He added that “it’s potentially going to have serious effects for other water users in the area of The Dalles”.

Data centers in Europe and elsewhere have also come under scrutiny for their high consumption of water resources.

Google and the city have cut a deal

But Google and the city insist that, under a deal they struck last year, the city’s water supply is adequate to meet future water needs for both the company and its neighbors. In fact, they say, the agreement commits Google to a $28.5 million upgrade in The Dalles’ water infrastructure.

Google also ceded some water rights associated with its own land, signing it over to the city. This, combined with the money to upgrade the water system, was given in exchange for an increased supply of municipal water.

“What we thought was really important was that we partner with the local utility and actually transfer those water rights over to the utility in a way that benefits the entire community,” said Ben Townsend, Google’s global head of infrastructure and water strategy.