Coal and Chemical Concerns Now Use Up 1/4 of the Yellow River’s Annual Flow
When 39 tons of the toxic chemical aniline spilled from a factory in Changzhi in China’s Shanxi province at the end of December, polluting drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people downstream along the Zhuozhang River and fouling the environment, it seemed a grave enough disaster. And it was.
But when Greenpeace China investigated they found something even more alarming: that the fast pace of water consumption by coal and chemical industries in the area is drying up all water resources further downstream. In fact, by 2015, water consumption by coal and chemical industry in China’s dry, western areas is set to use up a whopping quarter of the water flowing annually in the nearby Yellow River.
According to Greenpeace, “Even more worrying than the chemical leak is the high water consumption of the coal and chemical industries in the area.”
None of this may be news to hardened followers of China’s crumpling environment, but the scale of the water consumption in the water-scarce area is nonetheless shocking: The Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group, which caused the spill, consumes water equivalent to the consumption of about 300,000 people per year.
The coal and chemical industry is simply “a major water-eater.”
Water is a key challenge for the country, as rapid industrial growth guzzles water faster and faster. In the last 40 years, 13 percent of China’s lakes have disappeared, half its coastal wetlands have been lost to reclamation and 50 percent of cities left without drinking water that meets acceptable hygienic standards, the World Wildlife Fund said. The United Nations has singled China out as one of 13 countries with extreme water shortages.
Authorities agree that China’s water problems are complex. Although many small-scale conservation plans are underway, massive consumption by industries like coal and chemicals seem to present insurmountable obstacles.