Difference Maker: James Dilzell

Updated: Sep 1


Where do we often meet people who are top influencers of our community? A professional development training? Local board meetings? Color Coffee? When I realized how impactful James Dilzell is, I was his punching dummy in a Kickboxing class. The guy has a great jab and the flexibility makes for a limber opponent… but the new Executive Director of Eagle River Watershed Council has a stoke for water that goes beyond a striking first impression.


James’ home state of Ohio is neighboring one of the Great Lakes (Erie) making it the land of 'much water’ and easy access to recreational water… but not always drinkable. A member the kayaking club in Alabama, James remembers a course in one location where they were told “if you flip, don’t open your mouth”. The local chicken processing plant was upstream and drained directly into the river filling it with thriving toxic bacteria. Additionally, his field ecology class in high school included a 2-week summer program to explore Lake Erie and the ecology, ecosystems, and environment inside of this body of water. Dissecting fish, learning more about the bugs, seeing the ecosystem up close and evaluating were some fond memories. He attributed these experiences and memories to his love of water and passion to care for (and inherently restore) the environment, but most specifically freshwater ecosystems.


James found his college home at the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!). The University was recruiting for engineering degrees, and James found himself in the mechanical engineering program. Junior year came around, and James felt like there was more in the world than mechanical engineering. After some deep searching, he discovered the newly-established environmental engineering degree in the university’s programs. While not the ‘claim-to-fame’ major at U of A, James’ passion and interest in this field propelled him into the environmental workforce.


Starting his career by exploring in one of the most beautiful places in the world, James found a job with the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) and traveled up to Northwest Montana. Finding this job was a quick process, as he got a call, interviewed, and traveled to Kalispell in just over a week. Overall development of youth was his focus with MCC as James led groups of youth (sophomore-senior in High School) to do trail work, campsite maintenance, etc. as well as leadership development. This position allowed James to highlight different careers and opportunities for growth in the environmental field, and the smile on his face showed his excitement to spread awareness about the area he’s so passionate about. That being said, this job wasn’t his career high-point (obviously), but certainly a launching point.


Walking Mountains brought James to the Eagle Valley, and he’s been here in the land of ‘limited water’ for 5 years. James has been with the Eagle River Watershed Council for just over 3 years. Serving as the Education and Outreach Coordinator from 2019 until Spring of 2022 allowed a space for him to build skill paths overlapping educational and technical aspects. Blasting into the Executive Director position this spring (at the age of 27), James admits this is a dream job of his. It’s not ever what he would have envisioned at this point in his life, but this is the field, capacity, and location where he belongs. How did this 27-year-old land an ED position? “Put your hat in the ring”, Dilzell encourages others to not limit their potential. Now stepping into huge roles surrounding technical aspects, policy work, community representation, and advocacy for local water, James' career is right where he wants it to be. James encourages all to “just try something!! You might hate it, but it’ll get you somewhere nonetheless.”


The state of water in Eagle County and the West is ‘unpredictable’. Our local water supply relies so much on changing snowpack , that our use and management of water is essential. Eagle County is responsible for about 3% of the total flow of the Colorado River. “Collaboration is key” claims Dilzell, encouraging ideas, learning, and discussion. Conversations with the county, town(s), partners, neighbors, and friends are how awareness gets raised and how the watershed reaches its greatest potential. Water connects all of our lives and we should all be connected to water. James is happy to chat with anyone, in order to better serve the watershed, and he can be reached at dilzell@erwc.org.


Written by Cameron Dole, Youth Engagement Manager at Mountain Youth, cdole@mountainyouth.org

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