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Farm to table.

When people learn that 91% of Colorado’s water is used for agricultural purposes, farmers are the first to blame for water shortages. But there’s a lot more baked into this figure than many people realize. How do farmers make compromises and tradeoffs to ensure they are financially sound, while also adapting to drought and climate change, to ensure we all have food on our tables?

"Everybody who works in agriculture is critical to fighting climate change."

The water system in the San Luis Valley is over appropriated. So, farmers took action by self-imposing fees on water, changing to less water-heavy crops, and altering farming practices. But today’s water realities are grim. Ten of the past 11 years have seen below-average snowpack in the mountains surrounding the Valley. And future climate projections are only going to add pressure to the over-allocated system. Water is finite. And unlike renewable energy, there isn’t an alternative water option. We have what we have. Our only real power is how we choose to use it. 

"If we’re doing it right, why aren’t things better?"

Given all the ways in which farmers in Colorado are making sacrifices it seems like progress would be inevitable. But right now, the problem is still bigger than the solutions. While there are some who are making significant water cuts, the total state water usage for agriculture hasn’t gone down in 17 years. And the laws that govern water use in Colorado were made for different times with different conditions. So now the burden is on all of us. 

Is there a new future for water that truly takes into account the stark reality of the situation? 

Tyler Mitchell, Farmer, Mike Mitchell Farms
Kate Greenberg, Commissioner of Agriculture, Colorado Department of Agriculture
Liza Marron, Director, San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition
Brad Udall, Senior Water & Climate Research Scientist, Colorado Water Institute
Jesus Flores, Manager, Rio Grande Farm Park
Brayan Flores, Assistant Manager, The Rio Grande Farm Park

Further Reading

"Farms use 80% of the West's water. Some in Colorado use less, a lot less." Water Education Colorado, September 14, 2022.

"Report: Colorado's farm water use exceeds national average, despite efforts to conserve," Water Education Colorado, February 19, 2020.

"Not Your Childhood Water Cycle," EOS, October 13, 2022.

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