Water challenges in a city such as South Tarawa, Kiribati’s capital, matter not only because the lives and prosperity of its own inhabitants are at stake, but also because issues such as climate variability, anthropogenic pressure on water resources, and systemic infrastructure weaknesses foretell the human, physical, and economic challenges many other cities are likely to face later this century. In this way, places like Kiribati are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the perils of climate change. Because South Tarawa’s climate risks are more imminent and more threatening, and because its capacity to address these risks is more constrained than elsewhere, water management models that prove resilient and sustainable in such a context today could help unlock solutions to future urban water security challenges globally