Researchers have warned that attempts by the Chinese government to reduce air pollution by cutting the use of coal in power plants might have an unexpected side effect in threatening the country's water resources.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, China plans to lower its dependence on coal by reducing the fuel's role in energy production from 67 percent last year to 65 percent in 2017. As part of this plan, China is preparing a move to create synthetic natural gas (SNG) plants, which convert coal to gas. However, operating these plants requires huge amounts of water and this could put some areas of the country under serious water stress, the news source said.

RELATED: US carbon emissions down 10% since 2010

According to scientists at the World Resources Institute (WRI), producing one cubic meter of SNG takes up to six to 10 liters of freshwater in the process. So in its attempts to cut air pollution levels, China could put its freshwater reserves at risk, a report by the WRI pointed out.

To make matters worse, the majority of the SNG plants are planned to be constructed in some of the country's most water-stressed areas, such as Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. Researchers estimate that the facilities will require between 500 and 700 million cubic meters of freshwater per year, which is about one-fifth of the total industrial water supply in the region.