The history tracing the connections between water resources and human civilisation is one that reflects the social endeavour to clarify rights as to abstraction and use. This history also reflects the extent to which water resources have underpinned social and economic development. This article considers how legislative design for water resources in the Colony/State of Victoria has focussed on maximisation of developmental objectives in agriculture through the provision water rights in conjunction with land ownership. In contrast, more recent micro-economic reforms influenced by the Council of Australian Governments and the Public Bodies Review Committee appear discontinuous with these objectives. The reforms have attempted to realign statutory water law to create property in the water itself. Tracing the development of English common law legal doctrines over water resources additionally draws attention to the differences emphasised by Victorian legislators as a necessary stimulant for legislative action. Ultimately, this article contends that the stated objectives of Victorian water resources legislation provide a significant insight into the central purposes of its design and how this design contrasts with a subsequent trajectory of legislative reform.