Home Data Centres Google water grab bid in South Carolina irks residents

Google water grab bid in South Carolina irks residents

Google's move to draw 1.5 million gallons of water a day from an aquifer in South Carolina to cool an expansion of a data centre has drawn the ire of residents, conservationists and water utility officials.

The company already uses a tenth of the 40 million gallons of surface water pumped each day by the Berkeley County Water and Sanitation utility to cool its data centre in Goose Creek.

It is the second biggest user of water in South Carolina, but how much it pays is not revealed; it is the only one of the top 10 users to be accorded such treatment.

If Google is allowed to draw the 1.5 million gallons of aquifer water each day, that would make it the third largest user of an aquifer in three counties around Charleston, according to a report in The Post and Courier, the US state's oldest newspaper, which cited South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control records as its source.

The Google bid is the latest controversy over water use in South Carolina with industries, farms and other residents all lining up for using the fluid.

The report cited data centre industry analyst firm Datacenter Dynamics as saying that the cost of tap water had gone up much more than that of gold or real estate since the 1990s.

But water from aquifers was free and there were hardly any regulations on the use of this source of water in South Carolina.

The Post and Courier said industries, farms and others who owned wells drew more than 333 million gallons of groundwater per day, citing US Geological Survey records. And a billion gallons of surface water was used in the state each day.

Big technology companies receive huge subsidies from US states when they set up data centres, with the promise that thousands of jobs will be created.

But, as iTWire has reported, companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Facebook end up getting subsidies of US$1.95 million per job by obtaining funds from states and localities to build data centres.

In 2008, Google cited access to cheap electricity and water in South Carolina as among the biggest reasons why it decided to set up a data centre there.

The newspaper said its own estimate was that the search behemoth paid about US$250,000 per year for its tap water; this was based on a report by Berkeley County Water and Sanitation.

At a recent public hearing held by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to discuss Google's bid for the aquifer water, those who oppose the company's bid asked state regulators to ensure that alternatives were examined.

They said neither Google nor any other large user should be given a permit for more groundwater until a study that is examining groundwater flow and recharge in the aquifer was completed. The US Geological Survey and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources are conducting the survey which is expected to be completed by 2019.

Details of other big users of water were released to the newspaper. The top user is DAK Americas, a polyester fibre manufacturer, which uses 230,756,490 gallons each year and pays US$559,985.72. The third, Nucor Steel, utilises 111,166,700 gallons per annum and pays US$246,273.07.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.