Stewardship of water: My childhood was spent exploring the beautiful forests and streams of Muir Beach, California. This fragile ecosystem is now threatened by the worst drought in recorded history, which is ravaging the west coast of the U.S. Unfortunately, this problem goes beyond the stretches of coast I live on. In spots around the world suffering from diminished rainfall – from sub-Saharan Africa to Brazil’s semi-arid region – climate change is exacerbating water scarcity problems. In the meanwhile, we’ve seen devastating floods in places like the eastern U.S., central China, and western Germany caused by strong storms.
The Climate Action Tendency announced its latest, most ambitious plan to achieve a carbon-free future in September. Based on our commitment, we have committed to a water stewardship goal of replenishing more water than we consume by 2030 and ensuring water security in communities where we operate. On average, Google will replenish 120% of the water we consume across our offices and data centers. Google is strengthening the stewardship of water across its campuses and data centers; preserving watershed health and ecosystems in water-stressed communities; and sharing technology and tools for everyone to predict, prevent, and recover from water stress.
Water management that respects the environment
Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, and Search are all made possible thanks to water cooling in our data centers. With our operational water sustainability, we’ve taken steps to address and improve over time. We used reclaimed wastewater to cool our data center in Douglas County, Georgia, for example. To improve the resiliency of landscapes and the local watershed, we collaborated with ecologists and landscape architects at our San Francisco Bay Area office campuses. Our campuses have been landscaped to withstand the stresses of climate change by implementing drip irrigation, using watering systems that adjust to local weather conditions, as well as fostering diverse landscapes.
We will continuously strive to improve our water use and consumption as part of our water stewardship journey. If possible, we will use freshwater alternatives in our data centers, such as seawater or reclaimed wastewater. In our office campus buildings, we are looking to use on-site water sources, such as collected stormwater and treated wastewater, to meet non-potable water needs, such as landscape irrigation, cooling, and toilet flushing.
The importance of securing water in communities and maintaining healthy ecosystems
The issue of water security goes beyond our operations, and it’s not something we can solve alone. Across all Google offices and data centers, we will invest in community projects that replenish 120% of the water we consume, on average and help to improve the health of the nearby watersheds.
Our daily use of water is typically influenced by local watersheds – areas of land where rainwater collects and flows off into a common outlet, like a river, bay, or other receiving body of water. In addition to measuring water quality and availability, there are also several ways to determine whether a watershed is sustainable.
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In addressing local water challenges, we will focus on local watershed solutions. As an example, we are collaborating with the Colorado River Indian Tribes on the project to reduce water withdrawn from Lake Mead on the Colorado River in Nevada and Arizona. Water quality in the River Liffey and Dublin Bay are being improved by rainwater harvesting systems in Dublin, Ireland. In Los Angeles, we’re removing water-hungry invasive species to benefit the San Gabriel mountains ecosystem.
Using data tools to prevent and predict water stress
In order to measure and predict water availability and water needs, communities, policymakers, and planners need tools. We’re committed to working with partners so that tools and technologies are universally accessible. Our recent work on water management has involved working with others:
- Developed the Freshwater Ecosystems Explorer with the UN Environment Programme and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission. Over time, this tool tracks the changes in surface water on a national and local scale.
- With academic and government researchers, developed OpenET, a web application that makes satellite-based data available to farmers, landowners, and water managers so they can see how and where water moves when it evaporates.
- Contributed to Global Water Watch and Windward Fund’s BlueConduit through Google.org. In partnership with Google.org, WRI, WWF, and Deltares, Global Water Watch provides real-time indicators for current and future water management needs. The BlueConduit product quantifies and maps hazardous lead service lines, making it easier to replace water infrastructure in vulnerable areas.
In order to protect our planet and the resources we rely on, a significant amount of work must be done. We’ll continue to look for ways to use our products and expertise to help address these challenging and common water problems, as well as partner with others.