SHANGHAI China's plan to rapidly expand large coal mines and power plants in its arid northern and western provinces threatens to drain precious water supply and could trigger a severe water crisis, a report by environmental activists Greenpeace said on Tuesday.
China intends to boost coal production in provinces including Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi and Ningxia, with output in those areas expected to reach 2.2 billion tons, or 56 percent of the country's forecast production of 3.9 billion tons, by 2015.
As part of the country's major overhaul of its power generation strategy, Beijing also plans to build 16 large coal-fired power stations in those provinces by 2015. Total installed capacity for the plants is expected to exceed 600 gigawatts.
Coal mining and coal-fired power generation are extremely water-intensive projects.
Water demand created by this energy strategy, along with the development of coal-related industries in these area, will consume at least 9.98 billion cubic meters of water by 2015 - equivalent to one sixth of the annual total water volume of China's largest Yellow River, Greenpeace said in a report on Tuesday.
"This grand strategy is doomed to meet an unavoidable bottleneck: water scarcity. In fact, water resources per capita and per unit area in these areas are only one tenth of the national average," Greenpeace said.
The development of the massive coal power base will also drain and pollute groundwater resources, which will in turn exacerbate drought as there will be less usable water available.
"If China insists on going ahead with the plan, the already arid western China will suffer a series of water crises," Greenpeace said.
The environmental group said heavy coal mining in Inner Mongolia was already causing desertification in the once pristine grasslands.
A recent survey by the Inner Mongolia Grassland Survey and Design Institute found that total area suffering from desertification at the start of this century was 3.98 million hectares, up from 2.097 million hectares in from the 1980s.
Greenpeace urged Beijing to conduct a strict water demand assessment and reconsider the size and location of the planned mines and power stations.
"While energy can and is already being generated via renewable sources, the extinction of water is irreversible," said Li Yan, Greenpeace's East Asia Climate and Energy Campaign Manager.