Innovative ways to manage the urban water cycle are required to deal with an ageing drinking and waste water infrastructure and new societal imperatives. This paper examines the influence of water governance in enabling transformations and technological innovation uptake in urban water management. A governance assessment framework is developed and applied in three case-studies, examining different scales and types of innovations used to tackle challenges in European urban water management. The methodology combines documentary analysis and interviews to reconstruct historical storylines of the shift in the water governance of urban water management for each site. The research provides detailed empirical observations on the factors conducive to innovation uptake at the local level. Critical governance factors such as commitment to compromise, the necessity to build political support, and the role of “entrepreneurs” and coalitions are highlighted. The paper also explores the role of discursive strategies and partnership design, as well as that of regulative, economic and communicative instruments, in creating barriers and opportunities to initiate and secure change. A number of recommendations targeted at innovators and water managers are presented in the conclusion.