Water demand in a viable economy tends to be dynamic: it changes over time in response to growth, drought, and social policy. Institutional capacity to re-allocate water between users and uses under stress from multiple sources is a key concern. Climate change threatens to add to those stresses in snowmelt systems by changing the timing of runoff and possibly increasing the severity and duration of drought. This article examines Snake and Klamath River institutions for their ability to resolve conflict induced by demand growth, drought, and environmental constraints on water use. The study finds that private ownership of water rights has been a major positive factor in successful adaptation, by providing the basis for water marketing and by promoting the use of negotiation and markets rather than politics to resolve water conflict.