© 2014, Thomas Telford Services Ltd. All rights reserved. The water cycle is a contiguous system interconnected with human activities. Management has tended to be fragmented across anthropocentrically defined disciplines, potentially generating unintended negative consequences. The ecosystem approach and the ecosystem services framework emphasise interlinked, albeit often overlooked, benefits that the natural environment provides for people. This enables recognition and avoidance of potential ‘negative externalities’, identification of solutions optimising benefits across multiple services, and participation of wider constituencies of stakeholders. Systemic, outcome-based approaches are inherently economically efficient, yielding greater cumulative benefits for lower transaction costs by working with natural processes. The ecosystem approach establishes geographical and socio-economic contexts for management ecosystem service outcomes, providing a broader context in which to nest established water resource management methods. The ecosystem approach can also be applied at different scales and to diverse societal activities, internalising into them the value of natural processes. It is amenable to integration into catchment-scale considerations, yet does not present these activities as subsidiary to river basin planning. The addition of ecosystem services for options appraisal in preexisting decision-support tools adapts them to better address multi-benefit goals. Shifts are required in the policy and economic environment, but engineers have an important role in promoting, applying and innovating multibenefit solutions.