Sustainable, resilient urban water management is fundamental to good environmental and public health. As an interdisciplinary task, it faces enormous challenges from project complexity, network dynamics, and the tacit nature of knowledge being communicated between actors involved in design, decisions and delivery. Among others, some critical and persistent challenges to the implementation of sustainable urban water management include the lack of knowledge and expertise, lack of effective communication and collaboration, and lack of shared understanding and context. Using the Chinese Sponge City programme as a case study, this paper draws on the perspectives of Polanyi and Collins to investigate the extent to which knowledge can be used and exchanged between actors. Using Collins’ conceptualisation of the terrain of tacit knowledge, the study identifies the use of relational, somatic, and collective tacit knowledge in the Sponge City pilot project. Structured interviews with 38 people working on a Sponge City pilot project provided data that was rigorously analysed using qualitative thematic analysis. The paper is original in using theories of tacit knowledge to explain barriers and pathways for information and messages being communicated between actors in urban water management. The methods and results provide the groundwork for analysing the access and mobilisation of tacit knowledge in the Sponge City pilot project, with relevance for other complex, interdisciplinary environmental projects and programmes.