The world faces critical water risks in relation to water availability, yet water demand is increasing in most countries. To respond to these risks, some governments and water authorities are reforming their governance frameworks to achieve convergence between water supply and demand and ensure freshwater ecosystem services are sustained. To assist in this reform process, the Water Governance Reform Framework (WGRF) is proposed, which includes seven key strategic considerations: (1) well-defined and publicly available reform objectives; (2) transparency in decision-making and public access to available data; (3) water valuation of uses and non-uses to assess trade-offs and winners and losers; (4) compensation for the marginalized or mitigation for persons who are disadvantaged by reform; (5) reform oversight and "champions"; (6) capacity to deliver; and (7) resilient decision-making. Using these reform criteria, we assess current and possible water reforms in five countries: Murray-Darling Basin (Australia); Rufiji Basin (Tanzania); Colorado Basin (USA and Mexico); and Vietnam. We contend that the WGRF provides a valuable approach to both evaluate and to improve water governance reform and, if employed within a broader water policy cycle, will help deliver both improved water outcomes and more effective water reforms.