Community and participation have become popular in development discourse and practice, particularly in the global South and in relation to water resources management. Greater involvement of people in decisionmaking, implementation and evaluation of water management practices is expected to increase efficiency and equity in water projects. However, scholars have pointed out that such discourses are often problematically used and idealised, leading to the exacerbation of gender, class and other social differentiations. Drawing from a case study of drinking water contamination by arsenic in Bangladesh, this article examines the mobilisation and outcomes of participation and community in water provision and arsenic mitigation. Water hardship, conflicts and marginalisations are found to be products of social processes (that are gendered, classed and spatialised) as well as natural processes (local geohydrology, depth of arsenic sediments), in addition to the very ways that community and participation are conceptualised and practised. Nature/water comes to play a critical role in the ways that development interventions play out, thereby complicating the general debates around community and participation. This article seeks to problematise the ways that considerations of both the roles of nature and gender power relations can be more critically and productively engaged in development geography. As such, the article brings together debates in nature–society geography and development geography to argue that scholars studying community and participation need to pay greater attention not only to gender and spatial power relations, but also to the importance of geographical locations and the agency of heterogeneous nature in the ways water management and development interventions fail and succeed, and are thereby critiqued. More adaptive, reflexive and inclusive development realities that are simultaneously embedded in society and nature may then be envisioned, and more nuanced understandings of nature-in-development enabled.