Thames Water to datacenters: Cut water use or we will

Utility to consider introducing restrictions

Thames Water is considering measures to cut down the water used by some datacenters, including fitting flow restrictors or charging operators more at peak times.

Last year, the mega private utility company which supplies 15 million people with water, undertook an exercise to understand how much of the stuff is being used by datacenters within its area of coverage, which includes much of London and the Thames Valley in southern England.

The objective then was to work with datacenter operators to reduce their overall water usage and discourage them from using drinking water for purposes such as cooling. At the time, the southern part of the UK was experiencing a heatwave that followed on from a period of unusually low rainfall.

It appears that Thames Water is now moving beyond that and seeking to bring in measures such as putting flow restrictors onto supply pipes and charging more for water during periods when demand is high.

These steps are necessary to reduce pressure on the infrastructure during hot weather when demand for water surges, said Thames Water's strategic development manager, John Hernon, said in a statement to The Register.

He said the company has discussed physically restricting water flow at peak times with at least one datacenter operator in England's capital city.

"While we are looking at physical methods to reduce water use, including introducing flow restrictions on pipes, we prefer to take a collaborative approach with datacenters, including encouraging them to explore water reuse and recycling options on-site," Hernon said.

It isn't clear whether the company is considering these measures as a temporary short-term solution or if they would be permanent. It also isn't clear whether this would apply across the entire Thames Water region, or just areas where there are clusters of datacenters.

Hernon said the company was "encouraging datacenters to think of all alternatives for water sources. This could include reusing final effluent from our sewage treatment works or intercepting surface water before it makes its way to us for treatment.

"There are of course discussions as to who would be responsible for building the infrastructure to support this, especially on private developments, but we continue to have early conversations with datacenters and other developers, so that they are thinking about potential options before the design and build stage."

Water usage is just one of a number of sustainability issues that are rising up the agenda with datacenter operators, as well as their customers. Enterprises that use colocation facilities as a key part of their IT infrastructure are said to be scrutinizing their service providers' environmental credentials more closely as this may well be something they have to include in their own annual reports.

Not all datacenters use water for cooling, but of those that do, a large facility might use anywhere between 1 million and 5 million gallons of water a day (between 3.78 million and 18.92 million liters), according to in the estimates.

Last year, a group of datacenter operators and associated organizations put forward proposals for minimizing the amount of water used in their facilities to the European Commission. The Climate Neutral Datacenter Pact (CNDCP) suggested a limit of 0.4 liters of water per kilowatt-hour of compute power (0.4l/kWh) deployed, which was only slightly marred by the fact it wanted until 2040 for all signatories to achieve compliance.

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Meanwhile, water companies in England have come under fire this year for allowing untreated sewage to discharge into rivers and onto the coastline, and failing to fix their ageing water supply infrastructure.

Thames Water loses more water through leaks than any other water company in the UK, according to the BBC, allowing the equivalent of up to 250 Olympic-sized swimming pools to seep out from its supply pipes every day. The company's poor performance led to the resignation of chief executive Sarah Bentley last month. ®

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