The Dalles City Council voted unanimously to enter into a new water agreement with Google at their City Council meeting on Monday, Nov. 8.
All five councilors voted to enter the agreement following a series of questions from the councilors themselves as well as the community. Each councilor said that though they understood community concerns, they believed that the water agreement was in the city’s best interests.
Throughout the meeting, Public Works Director Dave Anderson explained the agreement and answered questions. Questions asked included where Google falls on the city’s list of priorities in case of a water emergency — to which the answer was that public health and safety always comes before all else — and how Google’s water usage would affect the community’s water usage.
Anderson explained that because Google will be providing the city with 3.8 million gallons a day in water rights that they inherited from the old aluminum smelter site, the city will actually have access to more water than it did before.
A community member asked why Google would give up the water rights they already had to use a portion of those rights, to which Anderson responded that it would be more work for Google to develop, operate and maintain their own water system. Because the city already does so, it’s simpler for them to give the city the rights and be allowed to use an amount of water to cool their data centers.
Much of the concern expressed in regards to the agreement come from the fact that the amount of water is unknown to the public because Google claims the information as a trade secret. Although the city knows how much water is being requested, they will not disclose the amount due to agreements they have with Google.
The water usage’s validity as a trade secret has been challenged by the Oregonian, which requested public records pertaining to Google’s water usage. The city refused, citing trade secrets, after which the Oregonian appealed the case to the District Attorney, who ruled the information was not protected and that the city should have to provide it. The city then filed a lawsuit objecting to the release of the information.
City Attorney Jonathan Kara told the council that though the city did file a lawsuit, that is simply the mechanism for appeal to the circuit court. The city is not actually suing the reporter requesting the records for any damages.
Kara said that when the city entered an agreement with Google in 2015 for existing developments, the parties agreed to cooperate in preserving confidentiality with no additional cost to the city. As a result, any fees associated with the appeal will be covered by Google.
Last week, The Wasco County Board of Commissioners voiced unanimous support for to the city regarding the water infrastructure agreement, the commissioners unanimously agreeing to sign a letter of support at the Nov. 3 meeting of the board. “It’s really kind of the last step in lining up the ability for Google to move forward, essentially,” County Executive Administrator Tyler Stone told the board.
Commissioner Steve Kramer expressed full support of the agreement. “This will upgrade the water infrastructure in the city, I think it’s good,” Kramer said. “From all I’ve read and all I’ve heard from the subject matter experts, that water system will only increase and upgrade the infrastructure for the residents of the Dalles, and I think that this is a good thing.”
Commission Chair Scott Hege agreed, noting that although there was a lot of discussion and a lot of concern regarding the agreement he was in support. “I think if you listen to the information and the facts, I think that the system itself will become more robust from an infrastructure standpoint,” Hege said. “The capacity of the system is improved, and even though Google obviously is using some of that resource for their expansion, I think that as proposed, and with all the information that I’ve heard, it’s definitely an upgrade and going to be a positive situation.”
Commissioner Kathy Schwartz also agreed, giving unanimous consent for the letter of support.
Mark Gibson contributed to this report.