We assess the potential benefits from innovative forecasts of the stream flows that replenish reservoirs in the semi-arid state of Ceará, Brazil. Such forecasts have many potential applications. In Ceará, they matter for both water-allocation and participatory-governance issues that echo global debates. Our qualitative analysis, based upon extensive fieldwork with farmers, agencies, politicians and other key actors in the water sector, stresses that forecast value changes as a society shifts. In the case of Ceará, current constraints on the use of these forecasts are likely to be reduced by shifts in water demand, water allocation in the agricultural Jaguaribe Valley, participatory processes for water allocation between this valley and the capital city of Fortaleza, and risk perception. Such changes in the water sector can also have major distributional impacts.