Navigating the Future of Agriculture in the West: Insights from the Telluride Water Panel

In the picturesque town of Telluride, nestled amidst the imposing San Juan Mountains, a critical dialogue recently unfolded. Colorado Water Trust hosted, in partnership with Telluride Foundation, an event titled “Water, Drought, and the Future of Agriculture in the West.” We brought together an assembly of community members and ranchers to discuss the pressing issues surrounding water, agriculture, and the future of food production in a drought-driven climate.

The event, which took place on September 12, 2023, at the Telluride Arts Gallery, saw four panelists, each with a unique perspective on the challenges faced by Colorado’s farmers and ranchers. One of the panelists, a Colorado Water Trust Board Member, Marsha Daughenbaugh, hailing from the Elk River Valley near Steamboat Springs, emphasized the universality of the water crisis. She stressed that the event was not just for farmers and ranchers but for everyone concerned about the region’s future.

Joining Daughenbaugh on the panel were Sajun Folsom, Kathleen Curry, and Rob Lindner, all of whom brought their own unique perspectives on agriculture and water management. Kate Ryan, Executive Director of Colorado Water Trust, moderated the discussion, highlighting the potential for agriculture and the environment to be natural partners in creating a sustainable future for Colorado.

The panelists discussed themes such as their own personal water conservation projects and/or regenerative agriculture methods used on their ranches, the most pressing matters of discussion when fellow ranchers gather together and how those conversations have changed in recent years, what the panelists wish people knew about agriculture in Colorado, why agriculture’s continuance in our state is of utmost importance, and how we can all support agriculture and healthy rivers for the benefit of our state’s future.

You can watch the full video of the discussion here:

One significant challenge faced by the agricultural community, as mentioned by Daughenbaugh, is the difficulty in attending meetings, boards, and events during normal working hours. This limits the perspectives and voices of those deeply committed to their livelihoods on the land. Events like the Telluride panel discussion provide a platform for their voices to be heard, ensuring that the agricultural sector’s concerns are addressed and our collaborations and innovations continue.

As climate and water issues loom large in the region, the event served as a beacon of hope, showcasing that agriculture can play a pivotal role in crafting solutions for a sustainable future. The event not only shed light on the pressing challenges, but also offered insights into significant ranch management practices geared towards conservation. By encouraging dialogue and community involvement, it paved the way for informed actions aimed at safeguarding the region’s most precious resource—water.

As the West grapples with the implications of drought and climate change, it’s heartening to see organizations and individuals coming together to find solutions. The event in Telluride serves as a reminder that, in the face of adversity, collaboration and shared knowledge are the keys to building a sustainable future for healthy rivers and agriculture in the West.