Fresh water availability is very low in Jordan. Current water usage is unsustainable and structures of water resource governance are inadequate. Drawing on expert interviews and the analysis of media texts, this study shows that patterns and privileges of water consumption sustain specific political and social orders, aggravating Jordan's suboptimal water resource deployment. Many of these long-established modes of water distribution are not commensurate with new resource governance structures fostered by international development cooperation. This puts pressure on Jordan's political elite: the flow of foreign aid stabilizes the regime as does the preservation of existing privileges. It is argued here that maintaining two opposed but coexisting ‘resource realities’, i.e. governance structures and usage patterns of water resources, allows the regime to escape this dilemma. Donor organizations are thus bound to operate in an institutionally isolated sphere in Jordan with only a marginal ability to penetrate the relevant actor groups to trigger profound effects on either resource reality.