This article analyzes the discursive strategies surrounding the implementation of the Dutch water safety program ‘Room for the River’. When this program was announced, it was heralded as a paradigm shift fitting in with the ongoing transition to ‘living with water’. Yet announcing a paradigm shift is not the real thing. When a policy is made, it is still a dead letter. For it to become implemented, people have to act on it as if it is a reality. It needs to be socially produced – and reproduced. The present article looks at how the new river policy initiative is ‘translated’ to the local level, how discourse coalitions ‘pro’ and ‘contra’ develop and how they discursively defend their claims. In this ‘translation process’ elements of the original policy narrative are selected and reinterpreted to fit into the specific purposes of local stakeholders. While its protagonists have been active in promoting the program as a successful ‘paradigm shift’, others have questioned this claim. This contribution inventories the different narratives of success and failure on Room for the River, by homing in on an indicative case study. We show how elements of the official policy narrative are used, broadened, questioned or reinterpreted by local actors to defend their specific point of view. Their narratives try to weld discursive alliances between catchy rhetorical devices, normative values and sources of expertise. They make selective use of the dominant narrative of current river management speak, and ‘shop’ between scientific and policy venues to support these claims.