Research shows that many water governance regimes are failing to guide social-ecological systems away from points, beyond which, damage to social and environmental well-being will be difficult to correct. This problem is apparent in regions that face water conflicts and climate threats. There remains a need to clarify what is it about governance that people need to change in water conflict prone regions, how to collectively go about doing that, and how research can actively support this. To address these needs, here I present a collaborative research project from the dry tropics of Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica. The project addressed the overarching questions: How can water be governed sustainably in water-contested and climate-threatened regions? And, how can people transition current water governance regimes toward more sustainable ones? In pursuit of these questions, a series of individual studies were performed with many partners and collaborators. These studies included: a participatory analysis and sustainability assessment of current water governance regimes; a case analysis and comparison of water conflicts; constructing alternative governance scenarios; and, developing governance transition strategies. Results highlight the need for water governance that addresses asymmetrical knowledge gaps especially concerning groundwater resources, reconciles disenfranchised groups, and supports local leaders. Yet, actions taken based on these initial results, despite some success influencing policy, found substantial challenges confronting them. In-depth conflict investigations, for example, found that deeply rooted issues such friction between opposing local-based and national institutions were key conflict drivers in the region. To begin addressing these issues, researchers and stakeholders then constructed a set of governing alternatives and devised governance transition strategies that could actively support people to achieve more sustainable alternatives and avoid less sustainable ones. These efforts yielded insight into the collective actions needed to implement more sustainable water governance regimes, including ways to overcoming barriers that drive harmful water conflicts. Actions based on these initial strategies yielded further opportunities, challenges, and lessons. Overall, the project addresses the research and policy gap between identifying what is sustainable water governance and understanding the strategies needed to implement it successfully in regions that experience water conflict and climate impacts.