February 21, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

You might miss your water


You could always Google it


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 With its pressure decreasing already, it may not be able to replenish itself as fast as water is being withdrawn.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.

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