With increasing water scarcity, research on policy options for improved water allocation and governance becomes an urgent priority for many developing and developed countries. Evaluating institutional alternatives is however a challenging task. This article takes a comparative approach and compares case study data from Tunisia and South Africa highlighting the importance of the water rights system for irrigators. Using contingent valuation methods the benefits for water users of changes in water rights systems are quantified. In both countries WTP estimates reveal that from the farmers’ perspective significant improvements can be made to the current water rights systems. This is valuable information for policy makers to guide institutional reforms.