The past several decades have seen significant changes in how governments approach water management decisions. This paper reviews 12 major water management decisions in Queensland, Australia, during 1980–2006. The resilience paradigm was used to place the water management decisions in a social-ecological systems context rather than the traditional water resource context. The social-ecological context was interrogated through three parameters: scientific knowledge, environment and institutions for each of the decisions. Results indicate: (a) a trend for increased adoption of formalised integrative (social, economic and environmental factors) evaluation methods (such as benefit cost analysis and environmental impact assessment) in the scientific knowledge parameter of social-ecological context; (b) the environmental parameter (e.g. drought) influenced the timing of water decisions; and (c) a possible threshold was found within the institutional context, i.e. change of State leadership, which determined the regime or type of water decision under consideration e.g. supply or demand dominated management. These findings provide insight to policy makers and scientists on the importance of social-ecological context in the assessment of State water decisions.