Washington skimping on culvert improvements may hurt fisheries

Published on
May 17, 2019

Despite an order from the U.S. Supreme Court, the state of Washington is not spending enough to fix culverts in a way that allows spawning fish to migrate up streams.

A federal judge in 2013 ordered Washington State to fix its culverts, the under-roadway pipes that block migrating fish, but this year’s state budget allocated only USD 100 million (EUR 89.4 million) to the project, about one-third of what Washington Governor Jay Inslee said was required to get to the job done. 

Environmental groups, some lawmakers, and Native American tribes believe much more than USD 100 million is necessary. The House version of the budget requested USD 214 million (EUR 191 million) and the Senate version asked for USD 274 (EUR 245 million) but only USD 100 million was settled on. The governor’s office called the legislature’s decision “inadequate," according to the Peninsula Daily News. Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chair Lorraine Loomis agreed.

“We are extremely disappointed in the legislature’s last-minute decision to underfund culvert removal,” Loomis said. “Underfunding culvert removal at this point makes it almost impossible to meet the court’s deadline and will slow salmon recovery.”

The court order, issued by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez, requires the state to fix or replace the culverts by 2030, and the judge’s decision has already been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The under-roadway pipes can be at times too steep for migrating fish such as salmon to climb, some lead to dead-ends, and others can become clogged with debris, blocking their way. 

“We’d love to give more. Can’t. Don’t have any money,” Senate Transportation Chairman Steve Hobbs, a Democrat, said, according to the Daily News “I hope it spurs the conversation that we need to raise some other revenue to pay for this. It’s a huge expense and it has to be done.”

Washington has already fixed culverts on land owned by the state Department of Parks and Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, but the culverts on land belonging to the state Department of Transportation are proving to be more difficult and expensive to fix, as they can sometimes run under busy and populated areas such as highways.

Reporting from Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

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