Fish Culvert

Salmon need unobstructed culverts so they can swim upstream to the places where they spawn.

SEATTLE -- The infrastructure bill recently passed by Congress is a boon not just for people. It also could help wildlife such as endangered salmon in the Northwest.

Members of the Washington state delegation ensured the legislation contained $1 billion dollars to remove, fix and replace culverts, a critical piece of infrastructure carrying streams beneath roads and bridges.

Ashlee Abrantes, Ph.D. candidate in environmental science and policy at the University of Washington, said by state estimates, there are more than 20,000 culverts in need of repair.

"And the number that has been repaired or replaced in the last decade is not even registering as a percent of the number; like a single 1% of the number that need to be repaired," Abrantes reported. "So the overall status is not fantastic."

Salmon in the Northwest travel out to the Pacific Ocean and then back to the stream where they were born to spawn. Abrantes explained the fish have to pass through thousands of culverts along the way but cannot, if those passageways are in disrepair. Many populations of salmon in the Northwest are considered threatened or endangered.

Abrantes emphasized the federal government is likely to start by repairing the culverts it's responsible for. She noted as the law currently reads, local governments will then get to vie for funding.

"So hopefully cities, counties and tribal officials will be able to pursue some of that funding to look at some of the culvert issues on a smaller scale than just statewide," Abrantes stressed.

The state of Washington has an obligation to ensure safe passage for salmon and other fish through culverts on treaty lands in the western part of the state. A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision let a district court ruling stand giving the state a 2030 deadline to fix nearly 500 of the most precarious culverts.