The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) in effect since 2000, mandates public participation in water management. The directive's requirements are general, leaving it up to the EU Member States to determine how to address the issue. Using case studies, this paper discusses some of the benefits brought about by public participation in water management. The cases are part of a collaborative project involving rural regions in six countries bordering the North Sea, aimed at gaining experience in the implementation of the WFD in rural areas. The findings reveal that working together with key stakeholders and communities has two main outcomes: improved quality and plan effectiveness; and increased acceptance and ownership of plans, leading to successful implementation.