Based on the suggestion in the literature that conservation objectives should be linked with local development objectives to successfully realise community- based conservation, and little available knowledge about corresponding projects, we set off to deepen our comprehension about how these projects work in the field. We investigate cases that were from the outset framed as having two objectives; these cases are combined projects of flood prevention and river restoration in Switzerland. Our aim was to better understand the role of the multi-level governance setting for the success of these projects The corresponding objective was to identify, what role legal regulations, administrative conditions, available financial resources and other factors from different levels (confederation, canton and municipalities) play for the realisation of these projects. We investigated these projects by conducting personal interviews with project leaders and stakeholders that participated in five collaborative planning processes; for each case we interviewed at least five participants. We find that the difficulty to ‘gain space for the river’ was the main stumbling block for the planning and implementation of these multipurpose projects. Federal and cantonal regulations and requirements clearly shaped these projects and the corresponding institutions exercised the possible control based upon financial resources. Existing regulations turned out to be flexible instruments and adaptable, when they had been hindering emerging and desirable practices in river engineering. These regulations also permitted considerable autonomy to the local actors to arrange and negotiate their concerns in the projects. This autonomy made it possible to harness the ‘local social ingredients’ we identified as crucial to make these projects work, which are convincing actors that make a case for conservation issues, existing trust within the community –more specifically— to have good reasons to trust that nobody would be disadvantaged clearly more than other, and the willingness of local actors to invest patience and time to avoid conflict and to work on agreeable solutions.