The Great Water Grab

How the coal industry is deepening the water crisis

Publication - March 22, 2016
This report for the first time evaluates and discloses the severe global impacts that our continuing reliance on coal-fired power is having on the world’s fresh water resources.

Water is essential for all life on earth and plays a central
role in human development: from sanitation and
health, to food and energy production, to industrial
activities and economic development. However, human
activities are depleting our planet’s water resources at
an alarming rate.

The Great Water Grab report

The whole lifecycle of coal-generated electricity has enormous impacts on freshwater systems, from mining and washing to combustion and combustion waste management. A 500 MW coal-fired power plant, using once through cooling, can withdraw enough water to suck dry an Olympic-sized swimming pool roughly every three minutes. In many countries, the coal industry creates one of the largest demands on freshwater resources.

Plans for further major increases in coal-fired power plant capacity around the world (almost 1300 GW proposed additional coal-fired capacity as at the end of 2013) could plunge many regions already suffering severe water stress into crisis and serious drought.

There is also the increasing risk of serious conflicts over already depleted water resources between agricultural, industrial and domestic users. This huge demand on water resources coupled with the importance of all these major sectors, could severely impact societies. In some countries the water conflict could force policy makers to make very difficult choices regarding the balance of water availability for food production, power supply or water sources of major cities, as well as for maintaining environmental needs. 

This report for the first time evaluates and discloses the severe global impacts that our continuing reliance on coal-fired power is having on the world's fresh water resources.

The Great Water Grab: How the Coal Industry is Deepening the Global Water Crisis

Technical Report: Coal Water Methods & Results

Red-list: Coal plant clusters in over-withdrawal areas

Examples of how much water coal plants using different cooling technologies require (xls)