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WATERLINE - December, 2023

Celebrating a champion for Washington lakes: this year’s Secchi Disk Award recognizes Rob Zisette for his outstanding leadership and passion for lake protection

By Katie Sweeney with contributions from Carol Slaughterbeck (Herrera), Joy Michaud (Herrera), Jen Oden (Snohomish County), and Josh Wozniak (Parametrix)

Rob Zisette collecting a grab sample. Photo credit: Herrera

This year, joining the high ranks of Washington state lake leaders honored with the coveted Secchi Disk Award is none other than Rob Zisette! In keeping with WALPA tradition, Rob was surprised with the award during WALPA’s 36th annual conference: Fish and Beyond in Our Lakes, where he was presented with his very own Secchi disk adorned with well wishes from the 2023 Board of Directors and WALPA membership. Backlit by a floor-to-ceiling slideshow of photos capturing some of Rob’s greatest lake moments and colleagues’ fondest memories of working with Rob, WALPA President Matthew Colston related some of Rob’s achievements, followed by testimonials from colleagues and fellow WALPA members Marisa Burgdoff and Katie Sweeney.

“Rob is the most dangerous (and fun) sea mammal I’ve ever been in the water, boat, or on land with!” – Josh Wozniak, Parametrix

Rob Zisette SCUBA diving for a lake sediment core sample. Photo credit: Herrera

As the 2023 Secchi Disk Award winner, Rob was nominated by the WALPA membership in recognition of his long career of outstanding contributions to science, management, and the protection of lakes in Washington state. Rob has been a proud member of WALPA since 1992, serving as President for two terms and a committee leader several times over, and currently holds the position of President of the Friends of Green Lake, exemplifying his passion for the pursuit of science and dedication to lake protection. 

“I love working with Rob! He brings so much enthusiasm to the task at hand, it’s infectious. His positive attitude never waivers…even if I just ran him over with a boat! – Jen Oden, Snohomish County

Rob Zisette, Katie Sweeney, Tim Clark at Echo Lake (King County). Photo credit: Tim Clark (Herrera, WALPA director)

Rob has spent much of his career at Herrera, where he is well-loved as an awesome problem-solver and mentor, scientist, sponsor of Bakeshop Thursday, corporate health and safety officer, vehicle and equipment overseer, coffee quality assurance officer and enthusiastic party planner. His coworkers note how remarkable it is that he finds the time for technical work at all given how instrumental he is at helping Herrera succeed at other aspects, including growing the company from 9 staff to 140.

“In all those 40 years, Rob has retained his Zippy Zisette persona. Rob’s enthusiasm and passion for lakes and all his other work is remarkable and inspiring…Rob has always been a huge advocate for our state’s lakes, and I am so very pleased to know that WALPA is acknowledging that with this award.” – Joy Michaud, Herrera

Rob Zisette atop floating wetlands installed at Green Lake. Photo credit: Eliza Spear (Herrera)

As many of his friends and colleagues have noted, Rob is a passionate scientist bent on learning, teaching, and improving the environment. Joy Michaud, a coworker at Herrera and fellow limnologist, notes that Rob finds both the big picture and fine detail of his work to be equally fascinating; he believes in the value of his work and is committed to it like few others. In addition to his extensive work with WALPA and other lakes organizations, Rob is a regional expert on the pollutant reduction benefits of street sweeping, one of the first to apply microbial source tracking technology to fecal source identification in the early 1990s, a drinking water taste and odor expert, an expert on contaminated sediment dredge and disposal analysis, and one of the first to employ floating wetlands technology in both the US and China.

Rob’s unwavering dedication to WALPA, Herrera Environmental Consultants, the Friends of Green Lake, and beyond has left an indelible mark on over 35 lakes across the Pacific Northwest, touching the hearts of countless communities. There is no doubt that Rob epitomizes WALPA’s mission and cannot be more deserving of this year’s Secchi Disk Award. Congratulations, Rob!

WALPA’s Mission:

“Allow diverse interests to speak with one voice to protect lakes. Encourage and support programs for lake and watershed protection, restoration, and management; educate and inform about lake and watershed management; and foster communication and coordination among lake and watershed stakeholders.”

Rob joins recent winners such as Joan Hardy (2022), Jenifer Parsons (2021), Jim Gawel (2020), Jean Jacoby (2019), and Robin Matthews (2019). To see the full list of previous awardees and instructions for nominating a lake hero for the 2024 Secchi Disk award, visit WALPA’s website here.

Rob Zisette. Photo credit: Joy Michaud (Herrera).