Google Receives Permit to Pull 549 Million Gal Annually From Groundwater Aquifer

Oct. 15, 2019

South Carolina has given Google a permit to pump 549 million gal of water from groundwater aquifers to cool servers at its plant in Berkeley County.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) granted Google permission to pump 549 million gal of water out of the ground each year to cool servers at the company’s expanding plant in Berkeley County.

The permit provides both backup supply and a diversified source to prepare for any worst-case scenario, according to Google. Prior to the new permit, Google could access 182.5 million gal of groundwater annually. It said it needs access to more water as it builds out a $600 million expansion at the site. The permit expires in 2023.

This decision comes months after disputes over the company’s use of water for cooling.  

South Carolina’s groundwater is a concern because residents and industries already are drawing it from wells faster than it replenishes below the surface, according to the Post and Courier. Water levels are dropping in many of the monitoring wells and have since not recovered from the drought 20 years ago.

From the start, Google has been committed to saving water by operating our data centers in a highly efficient manner,” said Google in its fact sheet. “As part of this effort, we incorporated aquifer-specific groundwater flow modeling tools made available to the public by the U.S. Geological Survey, which were used for a range of scenario models in addition to data from our onsite hydrogeological testing.”

The drop in groundwater, along with more pressure on surface water supplies, has the makings of a water crisis. The permit would make Google the third largest aquifer user in the area, according to Data Center Dynamics

"I don’t have a beef against Google itself, but I don’t think it is appropriate to use pristine groundwater for cooling computers, versus providing that water for people” said Clay Duffie, the manager of the Mount Pleasant Waterworks, in opposition to the permit. "We are concerned about the long term, safe and sustainable yield of that aquifer."

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Cristina Tuser