Identifying climate-driven trends in river flows on a global basis is hampered by a lack of long, quality time series data for rivers with relatively undisturbed regimes. This is a global problem compounded by the lack of support for essential long-term monitoring. Experience demonstrates that, with clear strategic objectives, and the support of sponsoring organizations, reference hydrologic networks can constitute an exceptionally valuable data source to effectively identify, quantify and interpret hydrological change—the speed and magnitude of which is expected to a be a primary driver of water management and flood alleviation strategies through the future—and for additional applications. Reference hydrologic networks have been developed in many countries in the past few decades. These collections of streamflow gauging stations, that are maintained and operated with the intention of observing how the hydrology of watersheds responds to variations in climate, are described. The status of networks under development is summarized. We suggest a plan of actions to make more effective use of this collection of networks.