The global water cycle has been profoundly affected by human land–water management. As the changes in the water cycle on land can affect the functioning of a wide range of biophysical and biogeochemical processes of the Earth system, it is essential to represent human land–water management in Earth system models (ESMs). During the recent past, noteworthy progress has been made in large-scale modeling of human impacts on the water cycle but sufficient advancements have not yet been made in integrating the newly developed schemes into ESMs. This study reviews the progresses made in incorporating human factors in large-scale hydrological models and their integration into ESMs. The study focuses primarily on the recent advancements and existing challenges in incorporating human impacts in global land surface models (LSMs) as a way forward to the development of ESMs with humans as integral components, but a brief review of global hydrological models (GHMs) is also provided. The study begins with the general overview of human impacts on the water cycle. Then, the algorithms currently employed to represent irrigation, reservoir operation, and groundwater pumping are discussed. Next, methodological deficiencies in current modeling approaches and existing challenges are identified. Furthermore, light is shed on the sources of uncertainties associated with model parameterizations, grid resolution, and datasets used for forcing and validation. Finally, representing human land–water management in LSMs is highlighted as an important research direction toward developing integrated models using ESM frameworks for the holistic study of human–water interactions within the Earths system. WIREs Water 2016, 3:548–574. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1150. This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Planning Water Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change.