© 2016 Elsevier LtdThis paper addresses the challenges of constructing alternatives to the current water policy practices, regarding the social and cultural context of an increasing urbanized world. It aims at providing a reflective exercise based upon the analysis of a set of illustrative examples from different regions of the world. By presenting examples of critical problems or innovative approaches, several conclusions are drawn, which intend to clarify the most effective ways to influence water governance and urban policies at the local level. The cases presented are used to propose a referential and illustrative framework of possible ways to progress towards urban sustainability and ‘good’ water governance. The ultimate objective of this discussion is to promote and support the re-thinking of ‘traditional’ planning conceptual models (top-down and regulatory oriented), and their inadequacy to face the real social challenges existing today in urban areas, through an appropriate governance framework. Considering the goal of policy integration in the ongoing processes of change, this article proposes a set of recommendations in relation to urban development and water governance. Finally, this discussion builds on existing concepts like ‘sustainable urban water management’ and ‘integrated urban water management’ to propose a new and more policy oriented conceptual framework: integrated urban water policy (IUWP).