Policies that increase the reliance of a water-supply organization (WSO) on water conservation have economic and environmental benefits, but some cities and WSOs have been reluctant to pursue such policies to their full extent. Previous research has identified barriers such as WSOs’ concerns with revenue loss and consumers’ concerns with changes in lifestyle. Based on interviews in four US cities with representatives of local business, government, water supply, environmental and other organizations, our research shows how the reluctance to pursue water conservation policies (WCPs) to their fullest extent is also related to more general political factors. We bring together growth coalition theory and sociotechnical transition theory to show how opposition varies by type of water conservation policy, including the distinction between mandates and flexible policies and between end-use policies and infrastructure policies. This approach shows how the transition to higher levels of water conservation is a political process, and we argue that understanding both the political process and the political meanings of different WCPs provides insights into strategies and their potential efficacy.

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