Saturday, June 1, 2019 Blog · News

Google and groundwater

by Emily Cedzo

Today — as we face drought conditions and less than two years after Google’s first request rocked the region — the tech giant is applying for the exact same groundwater permit and the Coastal Conservation League has some of the same concerns. Google wants to pull 1.5 million gallons of groundwater a day from an ancient and pristine aquifer that supports neighboring towns.

Google is set to expand its data center in Berkeley County and wants to pull three times as much water it’s currently permitted to use from the 83-million-year-old Middendorf Aquifer to cool servers. It’s the same aquifer that municipalities like Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s and Kiawah islands use to supply residents with drinking water and emergency services.

Here’s what we’re considering as we review Google’s permit request:

  • Google already buys drinking water from Berkeley County Water and Sanitation to cool servers. The company isn’t required to and won’t publicly disclose how much water it’s getting from the county, so we don’t have a clear understanding of its current water usage or needs. That makes it difficult to determine whether or not the company’s request is reasonable under state law.
    Google has previously looked for other ways to get water to its data center, but failed to identify a good alternative. There may now be an opportunity for the company to source more water from a local water utility, and we think Google should re-commit to that search.
  • Google isn’t the only industry or user permitted to draw from the Middendorf. Still, its request to increase its usage arrives at the same time state regulators are pressuring other users like local water utilities to limit withdrawal from the aquifer. We believe the same state review and oversight rules should apply to all users.
  • Before another major permit is modified or issued, we need a stronger, well-informed plan to responsibly manage and protect groundwater resources in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.
  • And we just don’t know enough about our regional or state groundwater resources. The United States Geological Survey groundwater model, which will incorporate the latest science and data on the Middendorf, isn’t expected to be released until later this year.

South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control is gathering feedback on Google’s request until Wednesday, June 12. It’s time to communicate your concerns and call on DHEC to closely evaluate the permit. You can email Andrea Hughes at [email protected] or mail comments in to:

SCDHEC/Bureau of Water
Attention: Andrea Hughes, PhD
2600 Bull Street, Columbia, SC 29201

In 2017, strong and vocal opposition from our community forced Google to shelve its request to suck water from the aquifer and go back to the drawing board to explore alternatives.

Then, state regulators developed an “initial” regional groundwater management plan with input from local water utilities, industries, farmers, conservationists and other stakeholders. But that plan needs more work. It doesn’t account for what we do in the event of something catastrophic and fails to identify trigger levels that would signal when we should cease pulling water from the aquifer.

Google is an important member of our community, and its investment in Berkeley County is admirable. Still, for a corporation that touts its environmental ethic and the efficient, mindful use of natural resources, its latest groundwater request is not aligned with its corporate values.

The Conservation League believes strongly in safeguarding invaluable groundwater for public health and exploring sustainable alternatives. Google can and must be a better neighbor and do its business here in such a way that respects our limited and threatened natural resources — and matches our community’s commitment to conservation.

This permit has the potential to set important precedent for future groundwater requests and our region. Your perspective is essential to help us protect local resources. Take five minutes to submit your comments to DHEC via email to [email protected].


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