Editor: The recent article “Planning Commission Mulls Data Center along Goose Creek,” reveals that many in the county have reservations about allowing a data center on a pristine parcel of land in the Goose Creek watershed, which provides a significant amount of Loudoun’s drinking water. The proposed site is in Loudoun’s Comprehensive Plan’s Transition Policy Area, and would require rezoning to be approved.
Although the current applicant describes its data center as a “water-free” facility, locating it along Goose Creek would set a dangerous precedent, opening the door for other applicants who may consume much larger quantities of water. According to the applicant’s representative, “… we use less than 1 percent of the water that would be consumed by a similarly sized data center.” That gives us an idea of how much water could potentially be siphoned out of Goose Creek if rezoning for light industrial use is approved.
If the current application is approved, acres of forest will be removed to make way for up to 750,000 square feet of buildings. Stormwater runoff generated from facilities’ impervious surfaces, such as rooftops and parking lots, leads to declining water quality in streams. Even if a high percentage of open space is maintained, cumulative impacts will affect our water quality.
Water is not the only consideration. A globally rare ecological community of mafic barrens exists on the property, for which county staff has recommended preservation. Some of Virginia’s largest patches of oak-hickory forests, which have also been identified on the property, occur on mafic barrens.
In 2015, the county staff recommended denial for an application for this same parcel, because the proposal was not in conformance with our Comprehensive Plan. Data centers are not in conformance, either. The County is currently in the process of crafting a new comprehensive plan. Now is not the to make rezoning decisions that would permanently alter the Transition Policy Area, especially considering that the public has voiced support, via the Envision Loudoun process, for retaining the Transition Policy Area.
As business development is essential to our continued prosperity, so our watersheds are invaluable to the well-being of our economy, ecology and public health. Locate data centers and other industries strategically within the county, away from watershed lands and waters that work hard for us, filtering our drinking water, soaking up greenhouse gas emissions, sustaining wildlife, and providing tourism and recreational opportunities.
We need to plan well now, or we’ll all pay later.
Cheri Conca, Leesburg
Conservation Advocacy Chair, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy