There is currently debate within the international hydrological community on whether hydrological science should give priority to providing measurements, knowledge, and understanding pre-determined as being needed by stakeholders, or priority to more basic enquiry-driven science that will stimulate the continued health and growth of hydrology as an important Earth science discipline. Two recent major international initiatives in hydrology reflect these two perspectives. One, the Hydrology for the Environment, Life, and Policy (HELP) program, is primarily fostered by UNESCO-IHP and is focused on stimulating the stakeholder-driven hydrological science required in specific catchments that have become members of a global network. The second, the decade on Prediction in Ungauged Basins (PUB), which is appropriately managed by IAHS, is primarily driven by scientific enquiry and is focused on creating new scientific methods and understanding, albeit with practical application ultimately in mind. This paper summarizes the nature, origins, growth, and progress of these two international programs but also describes the subtly different approach that has been adopted by the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Center for Sustainability of semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (SAHRA). NSF is a federal agency whose primary goal is to "enable the future" by stimulating novel science. Because SAHRA is a federally-funded entity supported by an agency with this goal, the Center clearly cannot operate in stakeholder-driven, response mode in competition with the already effective private U.S. consultancy industry. Nonetheless, SAHRA's mission is to create knowledge and build understanding that will enhance the prospects of sustainable water management in semi-arid regions, especially the southwestern U.S. To resolve this apparent conflict, SAHRA looks ahead to future stakeholder needs and builds its research agenda around selected critical stakeholder-relevant questions that require substantial and sustained investment in basic, multidisciplinary, enquiry-driven science. This paper describes SAHRA's approach and reports on associated research and outreach activities.