The belief that groundwater in rural areas is best managed according to the Community Based Management (CBM) model is the dominant paradigm across Sub-Saharan Africa. While donors and governments focus on extending the supply network to meet the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of universal access to clean water, at any one time a third of handpumps are non-functional. Basing our case on ethnographic fieldwork, surveys and interviews, and working closely with policy implementers over the course of three years in mid-west Uganda, we argue that non-functionality of handpumps, and the precarious status of many, cannot be blamed solely on poor technology or siting of wells: rather the problem stems from a dearth of maintenance funds and management failings. The CBM model is an uneasy coalition of ideologies from across the political spectrum that meshes neo-liberal inspired commodification with theories of collective action and Common Property Resources. We demonstrate conceptually and empirically how the wings of the CBM model individually and collectively are contributing to the disappointing outcomes amid the messy complex reality of rural environments. Recommendations calling for modifying participatory processes, technological solutions and more external support all fall within the existing CBM framework, which we will empirically demonstrate is a blueprint for breakdown in these contexts. A resolution to the financing of handpump maintenance must be found if the SDG is to be realised, and we argue that academics, policy makers and practitioners need to accept this may lie outside the CBM paradigm.