The current lack of knowledge about small towns, the great diversity of such settlements and the pressure to ‘scale up’ interventions make it difficult for policy makers and practitioners to develop models which are suitable for these towns. Currently, principles and practices informing models for water services in urban and rural areas are applied in small towns without question. This paper highlights how these principles that are engrained in the sector, may be pernicious for expanding water services in small towns as the realities of these towns may not be conducive for models incorporating these principles. Often these models are adapted to the realities of small towns to benefit water services provision. However, these adaptations are rarely documented. The little documentation of these adaptations is a consequence, we argue, of two main factors. First, such adaptations question the suitability of the models present in the sector and alter the principles on which these models are based. Secondly, the great range of adaptations linked to the diversity of small towns. Taking such adaptations seriously then limits the replicability of models, making them less suitable for scaling up interventions. As a result, certain dogmas underlying water services models continue to be reproduced.