The concept of the human right to water and sanitation (HRtWS) has received increasing attention at the policy level in the form of national constitutional guarantees and UN actions, in the work of development organizations, NGOs, network actors and private sector actors. In this article, we explore how the discourse on the HRtWS from key actors in global water governance has evolved over time. Understanding the various discourses around the HRtWS can provide insights into how the HRtWS fits within larger governance trends, including development strategies and practices. We find that despite initial resistance to human rights framing among many of the actors involved in global water governance, there is a convergence on the existence of the HRtWS. Yet, contestation among actors increasingly focuses on what the right means in practice and how to implement a rights-based approach to water services. This contestation is particularly visible around what a legal HRtWS means for questions of financing, providers and oversight. We argue that the HRtWS brings a political dimension to a relatively technical driven discourse by calling attention to issues of discrimination, power differentials, justice, equity and democratic principles of citizen participation in water management. Keywords: human right to water and sanitation, discourse, global water, contestation, actors, development, governance