Abstract The historical background for centralised water management in the cities of the developed world is outlined in order to give the rationale for the technical solutions we have inherited from the last century. The key element is maintaining the hygienic conditions in the cities. The success is illustrated by the absence of water-borne diseases in the modern developed city. A new paradigm is introduced based on added concern for the use of resources, pollution of the environment and the concern for the welfare of the coming generations. The water resource is not the unsustainable aspect of urban water use, because water is not lost, but polluted, which can be abated. Water can be re-routed and recycled. There are many attractive local solutions for better handling of urban water.