Throughout the summer of 2012, drought conditions in North America, Asia, and Africa raised worldwide concern over grain shortages and rising food prices. Meanwhile, catastrophic floods displaced thousands of people in the Philippines, Fiji, and Australia. For millions of people, finding safe drinking water is the most contested and politically fraught daily errand. The contributors to this issue examine the historical processes that shape contemporary water issues. They focus on how state-sponsored water programs, from sewage treatment to irrigation to damming, radically transform local communities. Topics include caste legacies and waste management in India, dam building in nineteenth-century Egypt, North African emigration and municipal water policy in Paris, and contested water management programs in the Ecuadorean highlands. Collectively, in essays and photos, the authors investigate how water or its absence has affected human societies and seek to historicize the politics of the struggle to control one of our most crucial natural resources.