Although there are multiple causes of the water scarcity crisis in the American Southwest, it can be used as a model of the long-term problem of freshwater shortages that climate change will exacerbate. We examine the water-supply crisis for 22 cities in the extended Southwest of the United States and develop a unique, new measure of water conservation policies and programs. Convergent qualitative and quantitative analyses suggest that political conflicts play an important role in the transition of water-supply regimes toward higher levels of demand-reduction policies and programs. Qualitative analysis using institutional theory identifies the interaction of four types of motivating logics—development, rural preservation, environmental, and urban consumer—and shows how demand-reduction strategies can potentially satisfy all four. Quantitative analysis of the explanatory factors for the variation in the adoption of demand-reduction policies points to the overwhelming importance of political preferences as defined by Cook’s Partisan Voting Index. We suggest that approaches to water-supply choices are influenced less by direct partisan disagreements than by broad preferences for a development logic based on supply-increase strategies and discomfort with demand-reduction strategies that clash with conservative beliefs.