China’s huge thirst for energy is going to increase the scarcity of water already threatening people in western China and Inner Mongolia.

A planned major expansion of coal mines, coal-fired electricity plants and coal-based chemical plants in northwest China will drain almost 10 billion cubic metres of water a year from water resources.

This new demand for water is equal to one sixth of the yearly flow in the Yellow River. Tributaries of the Yellow River will run dry more often, the Yellow itself will likely dry up more often.

On top of this, coal operations will dump a great deal more pollution into the river, threatening drinking water for millions.

The people who rely on the vulnerable ecosystem in China’s northwest are going to find life more difficult. They will lose grazing land, their forests will be destroyed, wetlands lost, vegetation degraded, and soils eroded. Desertification will increase.

Deserts there are already growing. The area of desert in Mongolia has almost doubled to 3.98 million hectares.

A new report documents the threat to water resources. Greenpeace China commissioned it from the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources.

Greenpeace China is urging the government to look more closely at water demand and think again about the size and location of mines and coal plants. It also points out that relying more on renewable energy would protect water resources.

There is a growing problem with government approval of expansion of coal operations in several areas. In India, tiger habitat is threatened and farmers face water shortages. In Australia, coal expansion threatens the Great Barrier Reef.