Washington Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson has named Jeff Zenk as director of the Office of Chehalis Basin. This office oversees the state’s efforts to reduce catastrophic flood damage and restore aquatic habitat in the Chehalis River Basin, the state’s second-largest river basin.
Zenk has worked at Ecology since 2019, serving as the agency’s Southwest Region communications manager and supporting its air quality and climate programs. His past experience includes working as a legislative analyst with the Washington Senate and running his own public affairs firm.
“Jeff knows how to cultivate important partnerships with the public, Tribes, elected officials, business groups and environmental and conservation organizations,” Watson said. “He has an impressive record bringing people together to achieve sustainable outcomes based on consensus and science.
“Jeff also grew up fishing, hunting and exploring the Chehalis Basin and knows firsthand how flooding and habitat loss are affecting people in the community. He brings a wealth of experience and understanding to this office,” Watson said.
The Legislature created the Office of Chehalis Basin within Ecology In 2016 to address severe flooding and aquatic habitat degradation in the watershed. Over the past 30 years, the basin suffered its six largest floods in recorded history, resulting in millions of dollars in damage. At the same time, fish resources in the basin have been in steep decline.
As Office of Chehalis Basin director, Zenk will work with the Chehalis Basin Board, a seven-member legislatively mandated board, and five ex officio members, tasked with developing the Chehalis Basin Strategy and implementing its budget.
The strategy involves a network of partners working to reduce flood-related damage and restore and protect aquatic species habitat. Since 2012, state and local partners have invested $341.4 million to fund nearly 150 projects in the Chehalis Basin that benefit both people and aquatic life.