This inquiry summarizes global water resources and patterns of use, applies indicators of water sustainability in order to identify areas of water stress, and examines prospects for water sustainability in the list century. A long-range conventional development scenario is introduced based on a vision of the future in which the values, consumption patterns and dynamics of the Western industrial society will be progressively played out on a global scale. The scenario is driven by commonly cited projections of population and economic growth, assumes no major changes in water policy and, following historic trends, incorporates progressive improvements in the efficiency of water use. The scenario helps clarify the constraints of a conventional picture of water development, and provides a useful point of departure for examining alternative long-range scenarios and their implications for water and development policy. In the conventional development scenario, there is growing pressure on water resources, particularly in developing regions. Strategies for beginning a transition to a sustainable water development path are summarized.