Despite its extreme aridity, the Hexi Corridor in northwestern China, part of the ancient Silk Road, has recently been repeatedly flooded by rising springs, forcing ~1000 families to abandon homes. Here we use new isotopic and chemical data for waters collected from the corridor and the Qilian Mountains to investigate the cause of the rising springs. The data show that the springs may have originated from the mountain slopes where glacier melt mixes with the precipitation from a local convective system between the extensively irrigated Hexi Corridor and the Qilian Mountains. Accelerated glacier melting may have increased recharge of groundwater in the Qilian Mountains that was subsequently released by recent earthquakes from the mountains to the valley to raise the local water table. The result has potential implications for the impact of climate change on water resources and management in arid regions.