China’s Coal Plans Will Exacerbate Water Crisis, Says Group
China’s Coal Plans Will Exacerbate Water Crisis, Says Group

A coal miner walks on coal on Aug. 19, 2006 in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China. The regime's plant to vastly expand coal capacity in the area has met with criticism from environmentalists. (China Photos/Getty Images)

China plans to build 16 large-scale coal power bases, mostly in the western region of the country, by 2015, according to a Greenpeace report released on Tuesday.

In its 12th Five-Year Plan, China attempts to quash an ever-growing demand for electricity, nearly 70 percent of which comes from coal. The report titled “Thirsty Coal: A Water Crisis Exacerbated by China’s New Mega Coal Power Bases” strongly urges decision makers to reconsider the strategy and preserve the already limited water supply.

Greenpeace and the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources collaborated on a study to estimate the water consumption of the 16 coal power bases. The study concludes: “This massive expansion of coal power bases goes against the country’s uneven distribution of water resources, and if China insists on going ahead with the plan, the already arid western China will suffer a series of water crises.”

Draining the Yellow River

These new coal power bases significantly threaten the survival of China’s second longest water source, the Yellow River. Plagued with pollution for more than seven years, which launched the initial water crisis, the Yellow River was known as the cradle of China’s ancient civilization. The river, previously supplied water to 12 percent of China’s 1.3 billion people and 15 percent of its farmland, according to a 2005 report by The Epoch Times. 

Greenpeace reports that coal bases located in the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River dump more than 80 million tons of waste, which eventually flows into the river causing $11.5 billion yuan ($1.81 billion) to $15.6 billion yuan ($2.45 billion) of economic loss. Water has already been cut off in several cities due to pollution.

If five new coal power bases are constructed as planned, Greenpeace warns that the river will be further drained and residents will be deprived of even more water rights. “These five coal bases, proven to contain 41 percent of the country’s total coal reserves, are all located on the upper stream of the river. These ‘big five’ are all also heavy consumers of water, sucking the Yellow River’s tributaries up and causing them to run dry more frequently, and cutting off water that would otherwise feed into the Yellow River.”

Making Inner Mongolia Arid

The remaining 11 coal bases planned for further along the Yellow River in the already arid Inner Mongolia Territory, will gulp up 139.5 percent of its 2010 industrial water consumption by 2015, according the Greenpeace estimate. With only 1.6 percent of the country’s water source, the Inner Mongolia Region has already succumbed to irreversible damage to water supply, grasslands, and forests. The report indicates that already 73.5 percent of the grasslands are degraded.

The report predicts that by 2015 the annual water demand from Inner Mongolia’s coal sector will be about 3.1 billion cubic meters, “which is close to the total volume of water resources of the Xilin Gol grasslands,” the report said, referring to the rolling plains near Xilinhot, the capital of the province, covering more than 77,220 square miles on the Mongolian Plateau

Greenpeace also found that several big power companies directly invested in dam and reservoir projects in Inner Mongolia, taking away river water that naturally nourished grasslands. 

To prevent a serious environmental crisis, Greenpeace suggested, “a strict and robust water demand assessment should be made on China’s coal-power bases … We suggest new evaluations are conducted on the water demand of all coal power development plans as soon as possible.”

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