China is to launch an action plan soon to protect the quality of its scarce water resources.
Years of rapid economic growth have left much of its water supply too polluted for human consumption or for growing food.
The plan, expected to be published this month, will require firms in heavily polluting industries such as paper mills and dye and chemical plants to treat discharged water.
It will also set higher penalties for those that violate rules on discharging pollutants, according to official media reports.
One third of China's major river basins and 60 per cent of its underground water are contaminated, according to official data, posing a major threat to public health and food security. Water supplies have degraded to the extent that half the nation's rivers and lakes are severely polluted, Reuters reported.
The long-awaited action plan is expected to be approved by the cabinet this month to give it legal powers to hold polluters and local authorities responsible.
Under the plan, environmental authorities will monitor the discharge of major pollutants, with a remit to prevent any of the country's water being classed worse than "level five" by 2017.
Level five denotes water that is so polluted it is toxic for human skin, although it can be used for irrigation.
Experts say the plan will improve China's urban drinking water system, help prevent industrial discharge into rivers, lakes and underground water and expand water infrastructure in rural areas.
Nearly half of the rural population has no access to safe drinking water.