copy for pc-050217-ne-googlewtr

A aerial view of the Google Data Center in Berkeley County on Thursday, April 20, 2017, with a Berkeley County Water and Sanitation tower in the foreground. Wade Spees/Staff 

MOUNT PLEASANT — Town officials Monday renewed their opposition to Google's plan to tap a source of the area's drinking water to cool equipment at the tech giant's data center in Berkeley County.

"It's the same aquifer that we use for our water supply here in Mount Pleasant," town Waterworks General Manager Clay Duffie told council members at a committee meeting. "The groundwater resources need to be protected in a way that's sustainable for the future."

Mount Pleasant, recently ranked the fastest-growing town east of the Mississippi River, buys most of its water from Charleston Water System, and pulls the rest from wells that tap the same deep aquifer Google wants to use for up to 1.5 million gallons daily.

Historic use of the aquifer by Charleston area communities and industry have "resulted in a deep, regional cone of depression in the potentiometric surface" of the aquifer, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which is conducting a study.

In layman's terms, that means wells must be deeper in order to reach the water.

Aquifers are ancient repositories of clean water underground. They can recharge over time but can be depleted if water is withdrawn too quickly.

Google, operating locally as Maguro Enterprises, already has a permit to tap the aquifer. The company wants to triple the amount it can withdraw to 1.5 million gallons daily. Google is also permitted for up to 4 million gallons a day of surface water.

"As a company, Google is committed to using water and other environmental resources efficiently and responsibly," said spokesman Patrick Lenihan. "Our extensive research and modeling of local groundwater resources shows that our proposed (aquifer) use would not have a negative impact."

"Google employees are residents of Berkeley and Charleston counties and we care deeply about our communities, water, and the environment," he said.

According to Lenihan, 200 million gallons of water flow daily through the aquifer, eventually ending up in the ocean. Fresh water that is not pumped out by users just ends up in the ocean, he said.

That analysis conflicts with concerns that water levels have fallen in aquifer-tapping wells due to overuse.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control must approve a regional groundwater plan before it can act on Google's permit request. A vote could come as early as May 11. Calls to DHEC were not returned Monday.

Mount Pleasant Waterworks buys most of its water from Charleston's water system, which is supplied from a reservoir, in part to reduce Mount Pleasant's demand on the aquifer. The Mount Pleasant utility also uses treated wastewater to cool its headquarters building, and the town uses treated wastewater to irrigate playing fields.

According to Duffie, Google uses treated wastewater to cool a data center in Georgia, and Google should consider doing the same at its data center in Berkeley County.

Mount Pleasant Councilman Joe Bustos asked why Google won't do that, or use surface water, in Berkeley County.

"I don't know exactly, but it may have something to do with money," Duffie said.

Lenihan said it makes sense to use "greywater" in Georgia, but not in Berkeley County.

The Mount Pleasant utility, along with the Coastal Conservation League, has been a leading critic of Google's plan. Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page said she would draft a letter that Town Council members could sign in advance of the DHEC meeting.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Get the best of The Post and Courier, handpicked and delivered to your inbox every morning.


Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 and follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com