You might miss your water

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You could always Google it

By ELISABETH ALLEN

When it comes to keeping lucrative companies in South Carolina, state government will do just about anything — including, we fear, throwing common sense to the wayside by ignoring the environment, the interests of surrounding communities, and fairness in the marketplace.

We see it in the current fight for Google to obtain a water permit from the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

Google’s Berkeley County data center needs water, and lots of it, to cool its servers. The center currently uses 4 million gallons of surface water a day and is requesting a permit to withdraw 1.5 million gallons a day from the local aquifer.

Other parties are concerned about the effects on the aquifer. With its pressure decreasing already, it may not be able to replenish itself as fast as water is being withdrawn. And there’s the risk of saltwater intrusion.

Google already has a permit to pump 500,000 gallons a day from the aquifer. In order for DHEC to give it a permit to take more, the agency must have a regional groundwater plan in place, showing how to make sustainable use of the resource.

So DHEC promptly created this plan, which went before its board for approval Thursday.

The problem: There has been a long history of pushing the department to draft such a plan, for the benefit of all users — but it seems as though only this situation was motivating enough for it to do it.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Google touts that it has brought 400 jobs to South Carolina. The company also says that there will be no significant impact on the aquifer and that it has explored and eliminated alternatives.

The utility Mount Pleasant Waterworks and others sought an injunction from a Charleston Judge Thursday, saying the planning had been rushed, in order to accommodate the internet giant. It wanted to block the board vote.

DHEC went ahead and unanimously approved the plan.

The state government is specifically tasked to conserve the natural resources of the state. Yet state agencies and the legislature have a history of doling out favors to private corporations in the name of jobs and economic development. What happens when this duty and that tendency conflict?

For now, it looks like the state is on the side of the corporations.

Nerve stories are always free to reprint and repost. We only ask that you credit The Nerve.
  • Mike Holder

    In case they hadn’t noticed, there’s an ocean right there. Why don’t they PAY FOR and BUILD a pipeline to the ocean for their use?

    • Paul Nelson

      We know the answer to that. As long as Google can get a public agency (DHEC) to roll over for them, Google will use them for its own benefit. Salt water would be far more expensive, as they would have to desalinize the water. They will take fresh water any time they can get it, in order to maximize shareholder profit. Sergey Brin and Larry Page are very smart guys and very wealthy, and they generally make good business decisions. They will continue to use governing bodies to their advantage every time as these agencies will do so, until the voters or enormous public pressure embarrasses them enough to choose a more costly alternative, like using readily available saltwater.

  • Laird

    According to DHEC’s groundwater plan, the entire aquifer generates 11.56 million gallons per day. Google wants to access 13% of it. Does that leave enough for all the other uses (household, industrial, agricultural, etc.)? I don’t know the answer, but I hope DHEC does before they issue this permit.

    • Bedamned

      “Does that leave enough for all the other uses (household, industrial, agricultural, etc.)? I don’t know the answer, but I hope DHEC does before they issue this permit.”

      Hope, pray, beseech for all the good it will do you. It would take an Act of God to evoke some actual expert assessment of this matter from that simple bureaucracy.

  • LeeHarkins

    I know Google is a struggling start up company – but perhaps they could build a water treatment plant that would help the regional sewer department and provide the water they need?

  • Bill

    The “economic development community” is like the mafia. They get what they want.

    Especially since they are using your money, natural resource and government.

  • Bedamned

    “So DHEC promptly created this plan, which went before its board for approval Thursday.”

    It was due a decade ago but got dropped. This unfulfilled legal requirement and the ongoing neglect was recently pointed out publicly by an opponent to Google’s intent, so DHEC had to scramble to finally get it done. It then praises itself of course.

  • Philip Branton

    What is really concerning is the domino effect of such water use. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/00d3ba713f170c3da38d5b6b32aed92468f5ffd9f519199802f2935ec36ca315.jpg

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  • George

    Here’s an option: make them pay the same per gallon rate that it would cost to build and operate a desalinization plant, then use that money to build such a plant on the coast. Or let Google build a plant with twice the capacity than they need, and let them pipe the water where they need it and sell the other half to other users along the pipeline at the going local water rates.

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