From the “water-centric” perspective that is common within the world’s large and diverse water community, water is of central importance, and improving water governance is self-evidently essential. Some water problems can be addressed using watercentric approaches such as watershed management. Unfortunately, evidence is mounting that suggests that many other water problems cannot because their causes and drivers, at scales from local to global, are partly or wholly external to those traditionally considered within the water sector. Water governance in these cases needs to better account for a range of external connections that strongly influence water-related outcomes of concern and contribute to governance failures. These connections frequently manifest through external actors, drivers, and institutions. We address this issue by critically reflecting on the limitations of water-centric perspectives; surveying the water governance literature to identify external connections that can influence water governance; examining the extent to which four major approaches address actors, drivers, and institutions that connect water governance to other sectors and decision making situations (Integrated Water Resources Management, water security, water-energy-food nexus, water resilience); and considering key conceptual and practical challenges of moving beyond water-centric approaches where this is warranted. Building on emerging thinking within the water community, we propose that key open questions requiring urgent attention relate to reconciling water-centric and non-watercentric approaches, thinking critically about boundary judgments, and re-thinking conceptual and practical approaches to water governance to better account for external connections. The article contributes to emerging conversations about the future of water governance in an increasingly complex, connected and rapidly changing world.

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