While large water infrastructure can provide for growing energy demands, raise living standards and boost economic growth, there is increased public concern with environmental and social impacts and the exclusion of marginalised groups. Case-studies in Asia and Northern Australia show the contemporary interface between local communities and industrial development often lack transparent and participatory assessment of options. The three papers presented in this special session discuss three different aspects of participation of Indigenous people and minorities in assessment of large water infrastructure projects. We raise concerns relating to distrust between actors and rejection of projects by affected communities. It is accepted that strong statutory decision-making frameworks are key to fair and sustainable outcomes, but often contested that mitigation measures and resettlement plans are able to protect identity and livelihoods. The papers raise new concepts and understandings that may be of assistance in reaching equitable outcomes.