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June 24, 2024 3:42 pm

Local News

Water-hogging data centers flagged in latest ‘Dirty Dozen’ environmental watchdog report

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by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
May 9, 2024

The Georgia Water Coalition released its annual report Thursday on the biggest threats to healthy waters throughout the state by highlighting the unintended consequences of record economic development in the coastal region and how a rash of new state-of-the-art data centers is a threat to Georgia’s rivers.

The Georgia Water Coalition’s Dirty Dozen 2024 report listed polluted waterways that it said deserves urgent attention from public officials and residents who can advocate for policies that will protect natural resources that millions of people rely on for clean drinking water and are enjoyed by Georgians for outdoor recreation.

Georgia’s economic incentives have resulted in a surge of companies planning to build massive data centers to support online data storage and artificial intelligence technology. The report cites the damage that the data centers do to the environment by straining the electric grid and requiring large amounts of water to keep their equipment cool while operating around-the-clock.

Last month, state regulators approved Georgia Power’s request to significantly increase its capacity by using more fossil fuels and renewable energy. According to Georgia Power, 80% of the additional commercial demand will be used to power data centers over the next couple of years.

“Proudly, Georgia touts itself as the No. 1 state to do business, but that success in economic development is not without its consequences,” the report says. “When we fail to plan for growth; when we don’t enforce existing laws to protect our water resources; and when we provide anemic funding for the state agency charged with protecting the state’s natural resources, economic development inevitably impacts those resources upon which we all depend.”

Two of the new additions to the Dirty Dozen list are connected to the 2022 completion of the deepening of the Savannah Harbor, which opened up the port to significantly larger shipping vessels, causing Georgia’s growing coastal region to struggle to maintain an adequate supply of water.

The Georgia Water Coalition also warns of threats to surface and groundwater in the coastal Floridan Aquifer and the Abercorn Creek that provides water for 400,000 residents in the Savannah area.

“With saltwater intrusion limiting withdrawals from the Floridan on the coast, communities are scrambling to find new water sources to meet the needs of developments like the massive Hyundai electric vehicle plant in Bryan County,” the report said. “Coordinated and enforceable water planning is sorely needed for the region.”

The 2024 report continued the trend from the last several years by expressing concerns about Okefenokee Swamp, as conservationists await the state’s decision on whether to issue permits for Twin Pines’ first phase of a titanium mine located several miles from the edge of the largest blackwater wetland in the U.S.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence.

This story is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.