In this paper we assess the impact of Franz von Benda-Beckmann's work in the field of water rights. We argue that his contributions to understanding water, a field dominated by engineers and economists, cannot be overestimated. Over the years, Franz's nuanced and empathic anthropological attitude, his suspicion of universals, and his critical stance towards mainstream development thinking have developed into a rich conceptual repertoire for understanding how norms, rules, and laws co-shape water flows to produce highly uneven waterscapes. His ideas have been particularly influential in re-thinking water as property, opening up for investigation the relation between “the legal” and human behaviour through a layered conceptualization of property. There is now increasing recognition of the idea that water use situations are often governed by a plurality of rules, norms, and laws that come from different sources. The impact of such insights on engineering-dominated water studies is growing. Indeed, law and notions of legal pluralism are increasingly mobilized for the purpose of better regulation of water. The instrumental use of legal pluralism may, however, result in a watering down of descriptive-analytical concepts. These concepts may thus lose their analytical power and become linked to the very forms of identity-based politics, neoliberal ideologies, and modernist-legalist interventions that critical legal pluralism studies intend to challenge.