We explore the triumvirate of resilience – ‘persistence’, ‘adaptability’ and ‘transformability’ – in the context of England’s water supply infrastructure system. Risk-based decision-making and simulation models are increasingly being used to guide water resource management in England. We argue that these approaches and tools are sufficient to analyse persistence and adaptability, provided they incorporate systems’ coping and recovery during and after extreme events, along with a broad framing of human, economic and environmental impacts. On the other hand, we find that transformability is not readily incorporated into risk-based decision-making and related simulation tools, as it relies, amongst other things, on the capacity of institutions to identify and implement change. In England, risk-based concepts and simulation tools provide evidence with which to quantify water supply system persistence during shocks and adaptability on a range of timescales. An historical analysis reveals the adaptability of England’s water supply system in response to changing economic needs for water and societal expectations for water security, as well as external drivers including conservation of the aquatic environment and the politics of privatisation of water utilities. The frequency and impact of harmful drought events suggests a low degree of persistence. We find a potential for transformability through more strategic, national-scale assessment and planning, and setting up resilience targets that are consistent across the country. However, we also show that the system has not initiated such (potentially) transformational changes until very recently.