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Fish Barrier Removal Project Funding Needed

The Department of Fish & Wildlife (DFW) estimates there are 35-40,000 man-made, complete and partial, fish passage barriers statewide in federal, state, county, city, tribal, railroad, and private ownership.
State-owned fish barriers have received a lot of attention – and funding – in response to a federal court injunction requiring the removal of around 825 barriers by 2030.  The legislature has programmed $640 million to address state-owned fish barriers, primarily through the state transportation budget.  The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) estimates the cost for removal of their fish barriers will exceed $2.4 billion.While state-owned barriers are important and need to be fixed, there a thousands of locally owned barriers, many upstream and downstream of state fish barriers.  Without dedicated state funding, local fish barriers will not be fixed. Cities and counties simply do not have the resources to tackle this state natural resources priority.  Without local fish barriers removed, the investments made to remove state-owned barriers will not provide access to all of the potential habitat identified for those projects.

An example of the need to fix local barriers with state barriers is the Fisher Creek barrier removal project.  The $9 million dollar investment into two bridges on I-5 is expected to open up 17 miles of habitat.  The habitat will not be accessible without an additional investment of nearly $5 million to replace a county-owned culvert just upstream of the state’s barrier. There are currently over 3,000 county fish barriers in DFW’s fish barrier database.  DFW estimates there are as many as 22,000 manmade, complete, or partial, barriers under the 39,000 plus mile of county road system statewide.  The DFW fish barrier database also includes approximately 1,000 city-owned fish barriers.
Funding for removal of county fish barriers over the past two decades has been inconsistent and inadequate.  In 1997, following endangered species listing of salmon, the legislature passed 2SSB 5886 establishing a fish barrier task force to develop recommendations for fish barrier removals.  In 1998, the legislature provided $3.7 million for a fish barrier removal grant program.  The grant program funded 15 projects opening up 180 miles of habitat.  No additional funding for that fish barrier removal program was directly provided.  Funding for fish barriers since 1998 has primarily come from the salmon recovery funding board, along with funding when fish barriers are associated with other transportation improvement projects.
In 2014, the legislature adopted 2SHB 2251, establishing the Fish Passage Barrier Removal Board (FBRB).  The FBRB was charged with developing a coordinated approach that addresses fish passage barrier removals in all areas of the state and to prioritize opportunities to correct multiple barriers in a stream, create cost savings, and repair downstream barriers first.
The FBRB has met over the past 2 ½ years to develop a recommendation for fish barriers removals.  The FBRB’s recommendation includes 79 projects developed from projects submitted by project sponsors and by salmon recovery lead entity groups.  The 79 projects, totaling, $51.4 million, include 47 county-owned fish barriers.
The list of projects was submitted to the Governor for inclusion in his budget request.  The FBRB list was pared back to 13 projects with a budget request of $19.7 million for funding in the state capital budget.
The funding request faces an uncertain future with state capital budget funds facing significant pressure for other priorities.