This paper reviews the changing relation between human beings and water since the Industrial Revolution, a period that has been called the Anthropocene because of the unprecedented scale at which humans have altered the planet during this time. We show how the rapidly changing world urges us to continuously improve our understanding of the complex interactions between humans and the water system. The paper starts by demonstrating that hydrology and the science of managing water resources have played key roles in human and economic development throughout history; yet these roles have often been marginalised or obscured. Knowledge of hydrology and water resources engineering and management helped to transform the landscape, and thus also the very hydrology within catchments itself. It is only fairly recent that water experts have become conscious of such mechanisms, exemplified by several concepts that try to incorporate them – integrated water resources management, eco-hydrology, socio-hydrology. We have reached a stage at which a more systemic understanding of scale interdependencies can inform the sustainable governance of water systems, using new concepts like precipitation sheds, virtual water transfers, water footprints, and water value flow.