Water-related risks and vulnerabilities are driven by variety of stressors, including climate and land use change, as well as changes in socio-economic positions and political landscapes. Hence, water governance, which addresses risks and vulnerabilities, should target multiple stressors. We analyze the institutional perceptions of the drivers and strategies for managing water-related risks and vulnerabilities in three regionally important river basin areas located in Finland, Mexico, and Laos. Our analysis is based on data gathered through participatory workshops and complemented by qualitative content analysis of relevant policy documents. The identified drivers and proposed risk reduction strategies showed the multidimensionality and context-specificity of water-related risks and vulnerabilities across study areas. Most of the identified drivers were seen to increase risks, but some of the drivers were positive trends, and drivers also included also policy instruments that can both increase or decrease risks. Nevertheless, all perceived drivers were not addressed with suggested risk reduction strategies. In particular, most of the risk reduction strategies were incremental adjustments, although many of the drivers classified as most important were large-scale trends, such as climate change, land use changes and increase in foreign investments. We argue that there is a scale mismatch between the identified drivers and suggested strategies, which questions the opportunity to manage the drivers by single-scale incremental adjustments. Our study suggests that for more sustainable risk and vulnerability reduction, the root causes of water-related risks and vulnerabilities should be addressed through adaptive multi-scale governance that carefully considers the context-specificity and the multidimensionality of the associated drivers and stressors.