Fresh water figures prominently in the machinery of the Earth system and is key to understanding the full scope of global change. Greenhouse warming with a potentially accelerated hydrologic cycle is already a well-articulated science issue, with strong policy implications. A broad array of other anthropogenic factors—widespread land cover change, engineering of river channels, irrigation and other consumptive losses, aquatic habitat disappearance, and pollution—also influences the water system in direct and important ways. A rich history of site-specific research demonstrates the clear impact of such factors on local environments. Evidence now shows that humans are rapidly intervening in the basic character of the water cycle over much broader domains. The collective significance of these many transformations on both the Earth system and human society remains fundamentally unknown [Framing Committee of the GWSP, 2004].