The North China Plain, including plains of the Yellow (Huaig He) River, Huai He River and Hai He River, has a very important political, economic and cultural position in China. Its population is 35%, its GDP 32% and its irrigated area 42% of the figures for the whole of China. The region is now facing a severe shortage of water: a big challenge for sustainable social, economic and environmental development. Taking the Hai He River plain as an example, the average available volume of water per person per year is equal to 1/7 of that in China overall, and less than 1/24 of that in the world. The consumption of water of the Yellow River, the Huai He River and Hai He River is 67%, 59% and 90% of the flow, respectively. Groundwater has been overused: the deficit is nearly 90 billion m3, affecting about 90 000 km2 — 70% of the area of the plain. In recent years the scarcity of water has seriously increased. The main reasons are that the climate is becoming dryer, runoff from upper reaches of the rivers has declined following regional revegetation activity and other conservation work, industry and cities are developing quickly, and irrigation for agriculture has increased. The regional development plan anticipates that in 2010, 2030 and 2050 the water deficit will be 10–23, 16–30 and 16–31 billion m3 per year respectively. In order to resolve the water shortage of North China, a very large engineering project to carry water from the south is now in progress. This project is only one part of a comprehensive program which combines water transfer (‘water carrying’), water saving, water quality protection, use of runoff water and groundwater, and unified management of all water in the region, which we hope will alleviate the water crisis of North China.