Water security is a key policy area for the Anthropocene; here we consider recent discourses of adaptive management in relation to water security. Definitions of water security emphasise the dual productive/destructive potentials of water, indicating its inherent economic, social and environmental complexity. Adaptive management has potential to address this social-ecological complexity because it supports a holistic approach. Although adaptive management is sometimes reduced to little more than conventional action under a new name, the potential for integrative, holistic, learning centred approaches remains within the concept of adaptation, and in the complementary conceptualisations of Integrated Water Resources Management, Social Learning and Resilience Thinking. Linking across policy fields (the water-food-energy-nexus) can only be achieved by these types of adaptive flexible and reflective approaches, and there is some, albeit tentative, moves in this direction in China's National Water Policy, the European Flood Directive and Australia's Murray-Darling Basin Plan. There is, however, much to do before water security, under an adaptive paradigm, becomes a concept and institutionalised practice that is continuously re-viewed and re-constructed to meet the needs of an ever changing world.