The enactment of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in the European Union (EU) triggers intense activity among Member States and raises some criticism. The good status of waters may include an ecological dream that is difficult to achieve. Moreover, criteria for derogations require strong economic arguments. This challenge raises the debate on whether the WFD is part of an incremental process, embedded in prior European water law, with feasible goals, or whether it is a dramatic change of policy towards an ecological dream that emerged during late negotiations, and therefore was hardly achievable. I will state that although the high ecological ambition of the WFD is unprecedented within the EU's water law, it has several precedents in other arenas, notably long enforced in the United States of America. I will argue that the major challenge of the directive is the combination of the ecological dream with an economic ideal, which has no equivalent in the United States.