Google agrees to limit groundwater use from S.C. aquifer

Thanks to an agreement SELC reached between the Coastal Conservation League and Google last week, the internet giant will not be able to siphon up to 549 million gallons per year from an S.C. aquifer to cool its Berkeley County data center without restriction. (© Wade Spees/The Post and Courier)

Earlier this year, Google requested permission to siphon up to 1.5 million gallons of water per day, or triple what state regulators had previously permitted it to withdraw, from a depleted drinking water aquifer in Berkeley County, South Carolina. The company’s application came at a time when other groundwater users, including a local water utility, were being asked to cut back significantly on their withdrawals to protect the aquifer.

On behalf of the Coastal Conservation League, SELC announced an agreement with Google last week that includes tough conditions on a groundwater withdrawal permit for the internet giant, and mandates that it follow higher standards than the law requires.

We appreciate that Google’s commitment to protecting the environment will guide its use of South Carolina’s public water. This agreement means Google won’t use groundwater unless there is no alternative, and shows what can be achieved when South Carolina neighbors come together to protect the Lowcountry¹s valuable natural resources.”

—Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker.

Google planned to use the massive amount of water to cool computer servers at an expansion of its Berkeley County data center. Now, instead of being able to withdraw up to 549 million gallons per year without restriction, Google must adhere to the following conditions:

  • The company can withdraw groundwater only as a last resort when all other water supplies are exhausted. That can happen during peak demand, which typically occurs on hot summer days, or in the event of an emergency impacting the potable water supply. The only other scenario in which Google may withdrawal groundwater is when it needs to conduct maintenance on its well.
  • It must develop alternative sources of water.
  • To ensure Google is complying with the above commitments, the company must also report its groundwater use every quarter, instead of annually as required by law. The reports will be available to the public.

“We appreciate that Google’s commitment to protecting the environment will guide its use of South Carolina’s public water,” says Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker. “This agreement means Google won’t use groundwater unless there is no alternative, and shows what can be achieved when South Carolina neighbors come together to protect the Lowcountry¹s valuable natural resources.”

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