Aquatic ecosystems are exposed to a host of anthropogenic stressors whose combined effect can be synthesized with cumulative stress indices. The reliability of cumulative stress indices depends primarily on: 1) stressor incidence maps derived from remote sensing or modeling but rarely validated against on-the-ground observations, and 2) the weighting scheme used to combine multiple stressors into a cumulative index typically based on expert opinion. In this paper, we evaluate the exposure and weights for 13 aquatic stressor maps of the world's rivers with a comparison against local stress reporting across 1018 inland and coastal sites from the Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance. We found that globally-mapped and locally-reported stressors are poorly aligned overall (AUC-ROC = 0.50–0.63), and that concordance did not improve when stratifying by ecosystem types or continents. Agreement varied across individual stressors, was highest for hydrological stressors and lowest for habitat disconnectivity stressors. We estimated stressor weights from the comparison and found them to be remarkably aligned well with expert-generated weights, suggesting there is convergence on a stressor hierarchy across local and global scales. Our comparison illustrates the value of integrating data across scales to inform the calculation of global stressor indices. Continued systematic stressor monitoring across environmental observation networks is central to benchmarking maps of ecosystem stress globally.