Increasing human demands for water in California have led to a decline in the diversity and abundance of native aquatic organisms, including valuable salmon and steelhead. Declines worsen during drought years, a fact demonstrated in 1989 when lower Putah Creek dried out in the third year of the state\textquoterights most recent drought. That year, the Putah Creek Council (a local environmental group), UC Davis and the City of Davis joined forces to purchase more water from the Solano Irrigation District, thereby saving the fish that had survived in a few isolated pools. Since then, these parties and numerous others have filed lawsuits to establish rights to the waters of Putah Creek. While legal questions about these water rights remain to be settled, the events surrounding Putah Creek underscore the need for communities and irrigation districts to develop long-term water policies that recognize environmental needs in the context of California\textquoterights frequent droughts. Such problem-solving will depend on balancing the conflicting value systems of different groups of water users.