Situations of water scarcity challenge sustainability and threaten small users' access to water. In response to this problem, there has been a search for a method of hydrological analysis that can better represent the needs of small water users. While this search is rooted in the debate favouring a more participatory and inclusive allocation of the resource, it also requires a new focus on smallholder hydrology that can confront the gaps and biases found in current hydrological practices in many countries. This article looks at past hydrological practices and also at results of recent studies, highlighting the perspective of smallholder irrigators in surface water planning in Zimbabwe, and groundwater planning in India. These case studies show that wider social forces, not always best science, drive hydrological practices. However, new frameworks focusing on the water user can emerge for more equitable and sustainable water management.