With 20 percent of the world's population but with only 6 percent of the world's water resources, China's strong economic growth has come at a cost to the environment, the experts said.
The Yangtze River flows an ominous blood red from industrial pollution, experts said, while chronic droughts plague important agricultural regions.
Guo Peiyuan, general manager of a Beijing corporate sustainability consulting firm, has seen the problem up close.
"I was born in a farmer's family in southern China and there are a lot of rivers there," he told CNN. "When I was a child we could swim in the river. But as I grew up in the 1990s, a lot of factories came in.
"One summer vacation I went to my hometown and my mother told me that the local farmers would not use the water for the crops because water was polluted and the vegetables would die."
There are concerns the water crisis will worsen in coming years.
In Beijing the amount water available per person is just 1-10th of the U.N. standard of 1,000 cubic meters, a threshold used to measure chronic water shortage, CNN reported.