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Water Management

Achievements in Water Use Management

The City of Oak Ridge provides potable water to ORNL and other DOE facilities for domestic use (handwashing, flushing), cooling (cooling towers, chillers), heating (steam generation, hot water generation), laboratories, and special research processes. One of our most popular research systems, the Summit supercomputer, was designed to be super in more ways than just processing speed, thanks to design strategies using the leading concepts for energy and water use efficiency.

In 2019, we completed an extensive water use reduction project, demonstrating the benefits that can be achieved through cooperation from Facilities & Operations (F&O) and research divisions. The ORNL research legacy includes various systems that use water as a cooling agent to manage the temperature of research equipment using the once-through cooling (OTC) process. The older research systems are inefficient and use potable water that is delivered at utility-level temperatures. The water is circulated to cool the equipment and then discharged to the environment (i.e., native streams) after just one use. In two major research buildings, the older OTC delivery system was replaced by connecting research fixtures to a modern chilled-water closed-loop system.

Operational Resilience: Water use reductions by OTC eliminations and other water efficiency projects contribute to sustainable operations at ORNL by increasing reliability and reducing dependency on organizations that are external to ORNL, improving organizational resilience and reducing operational and environmental risks.

ORNL has an extensive awareness of the benefits of effective water management, having already established conservation measures that resulted in a 66% reduction in water use compared with the highest level of water use (experienced in 1985). Using the federally mandated baseline of 2007 for graphic illustration, water use in 2019 measured 604 million gallons, compared with a high of 1,025 million gallons used in 2010. ORNL's history of water use reductions shows our firm commitment to the sustainable practices of lower levels of water consumption, considerations for environmental impact, and better economic stewardship of research dollars.

Chilled Water System Improvements include initial operations of the Medium Temperature Water System for select High Performance Computing processes, utilizing more cooling tower exchange than chiller operations for energy savings. Other improvements include new chiller control panels for improved reliability and continuous flow of chemical treatment as well as heat tracing and insulation upgrades.