Chi Wulff’s People of Fly Fishing: 10 Questions with Sinjin Eberle, President of TU Colorado (Part 1)

by Mark McGlothlin on December 26, 2011

in People of Fly Fishing


It’s once again our pleasure to present an interview with another fly fisher working to make a difference in today’s world – meet Sinjin Eberle, President of Colorado TU.

We had the pleasure of running into Sinjin (virtually) a few weeks ago when chatting with he and Randy Scholfield (TU Colorado Water Project, Boulder) about the Windy Gap Diversion issue.

Even though he lives way down South in Colorado, Sinjin sounded like a pretty danged interesting guy and we corralled him into doing a 10 questions interview. Guys and gals who are really busy, like Sinjin, are sometimes folks who get an astounding volume of very interesting things done with their time.  And we’re developing a morbid fascination with the ongoing and escalating water wars in Colorado.

A brief bio -

Sinjin Eberle is the current President of Colorado Trout Unlimited and an avid conservationist and fly fisher.  As this is a volunteer position, his day job is as a marketing research consultant for Lynx Research Consulting, and owns Copper Door Coffee Roasters on the side.  An enthusiastic fly fisherman and a competitive mountain bike racer, Sinjin grew up in the small western Colorado town of Paonia, but now lives in downtown Denver with his wife, daughter, and dog.

We’ve recently had the opportunity to chat about the Windy Gap diversion project. The concept of diverting more and more water to the gaping maw (no offense meant) of the Front Range is mind-boggling to us; how do you see this story ending?

I think that there is progress being made, but there is still a long way to go to ensure that the rivers are safe into the future.  In the case of Windy Gap, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (the water provider proposing the expansion) has made some positive moves in crafting agreements that begin to address their impacts to the river.  However, there is still more to be done to ensure the health of the river, such as establishing firm water temperature standards, reconnecting the river around Windy Gap dam to improve river health, and securing base flows and flushing flows – both of which are enormously important for the health of the fishery today and into the future.  The stonefly and sculpin populations, which are the bedrock of the food chain for trout, are gone – FLAT GONE, below Windy Gap Reservoir.  This needs to be fixed NOW, and guarantees for their health need to be insured into the future, or this river is going to collapse as the project moves forward.

I can’t get past the fact that this is the Colorado River – THE iconic river in the West, and if we can’t protect this place, what can we protect?   The public needs to make their voices heard, and one way to do that is through the website that we set up for this campaign – (http://www.defendthecolorado.org) – Take the Pledge and get involved in the conversation.  The river has no voice for itself without you!

With the Front Range being projected to grow by another couple million people in the next 25 years, this is going to remain a problem.  Front Range Residents have done a great job at conservation, and more and more homes are switching lawns over to xeriscape, which is fantastic.  But we need to keep it up and make sure that we truly do use only what we need. Along with conservation, municipalities need to be more committed to re-use projects to get the most out of our existing water supplies, and agricultural interests need to step up and do their part to conserve as well.  More than 80% of the water that comes across the divide is used for agriculture, and ag is important to our landscapes and economy.  But between conservation and more creative sharing of water between ag and urban areas, can we stretch those existing supplies further and keep more water in our rivers?  I think it can be done if farmers are given some help and incentives to do so.

If there was just one Colorado watershed issue you wanted to get the word out on today, what would that be?

I am going to get into trouble for this one, since my organization (constituency, if you will) covers nearly the entire state, with 10,000 members across Colorado. But I honestly believe that the one thing that could do the most for our rivers in EVERY watershed, is the ability for non-profit organizations like ours to be able to work on abandoned mine cleanups. The inability for us (and others) to engage in cleaning up abandoned mine sites, which we can easily prove is the source of significant fish-killing pollution, is maddening! But our elected officials are so beholden to the mining interests that we can’t get what’s called a Good Samaritan bill passed, exempting us from liability while allowing us to clean these places up. Senator Mark Udall has tried many times, but we just can’t get it over the goal line.

The creative work that has been done on the Upper Animas above Silverton is evidence of the amazing impact that this work can have, if we would simply be allowed to do it. Nearly every TU chapter in Colorado has abandoned mines in its area that are leaching poison into their waters every day – it’s a no brainer.

How about other Colorado hot button issues Colorado TU is working on now that need more attention?

I think that people sometimes have a hard time connecting the dots between LAND protection and fishing quality – but TU in Colorado is working hard on a number of land issues that have major impact to aquatic quality here. For instance, the Roadless Rule is of major importance to anglers, since rampant ATV abuse (not use, ABUSE) and renegade roads leads to significant stream erosion and siltation, affecting fish habitat.

If the headwaters of the rivers are not healthy and clean, then all of the downstream places where we love to recreate have a more difficult challenge. These areas are the best remaining habitat for big game as well – elk, deer, bear all need large swaths of habitat, without the influence of roads and ORVs, for their vitality. This may not seem like sexy, hot-button-type stuff, but it’s important for fisheries that these places are preserved as natural strongholds.

By the way, the recent Federal ruling on the Roadless Rule last month does not cover Colorado, since the state petitioned to have its own Roadless Rule during the Bush Administration – so we are still working to craft a rule that gives maximum protection for the most important areas.

So why do you fly fish?

I feel that fly fishing is the best way to be as immersed in nature as possible. In contrast, my other passion is mountain bike racing, and I race at a fairly high level and have for years. You can ride through a forest, or hike along a trail, but your engagement in your surroundings is not nearly as critical as it is with fly fishing. To be at all successful, you have to be keenly aware of everything going on around – not only where the fish are in the river and what they might be eating, but what is the temperature of that water? Is the stream bottom rocky or silty or gravelly? What are the winds doing to my cast? Where is the sun? How cloudy is it? Are my footsteps too heavy on the bottom? Am I casting a shadow over that trout’s view window? Did my false cast just spook that log? Everything matters.

We had no idea that Colorado TU was 10,000 members strong. What’s been the driver to get so many fly fishers involved?

Well, the obvious hook is that fly fishing is a deep passion with so many people. They see the good work that TU does and how we make such a positive impact on the places they love to recreate, and we do it with a very lean staff and have probably THE best value for the dollar in the conservation world – another no brainer. But still, compared to other organizations like Ducks Unlimited or other sporting organizations, the number of people who participate in fly fishing, and who are TU members, is very low. We need to continue to tell the story of TU and show the value of what we do, and the organization will continue to grow.

My ethic about TU, and it extends to river conservation in general, is that NO habitat can be healthy without cold, clean water – whether you hunt elk, kayak huge drops, are a bird watcher, or a cyclist who likes to get out for a mountain ride – none of those places we love can be healthy without clean, flowing rivers. That is why I chose TU as the recipient of my time and money.

Part two of Sinjin’s interview tomorrow!