An example of a fish culvert which prevents fish from migrating through it. Creative commons

An example of a fish culvert which prevents fish from migrating through it. Creative commons

Fish culverts ruling will increase price tag for the state

The state will be on the line for $3.7 billion for fish culvert replacements.

The state of Washington is on the hook for removing hundreds of fish barriers over the next 12 years following a June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling let a lower court’s decision stand, meaning the state will be responsible for replacing fish culverts that block salmon habitat. The state was sued in 2001 by 21 western Washington treaty tribes, which said state-owned barriers under highways that blocked fish passage were a violation of treaty rights. The case area includes all of Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula.

Since 1991, the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Fish and Wildlife have worked to eliminate fish barriers along state highways. Statewide, there are more than 3,700 fish-bearing highway crossings and nearly 2,000 present barriers to fish passage. By June 2017, the state had fixed 219 fish barrier passages but the Supreme Court ruling means the state will have to fix an additional 425 culverts by 2030 with an estimated price tag of $3.7 billion.

Washington State Department of Transportation biology branch manager Paul Wagner said the state Legislature has already allocated some $736 million to fix culverts but that the additional money will need to come from Olympia for the fixes.

“We’re not just waking up to this or starting work on it right now,” he said.

These high-priority culverts are ones that block access to more than 200 meters of upstream fish habitat. An additional 160 culverts, which block less than 200 meters, will also be fixed but there is no time limit for when they should be completed.

The culverts particularly harm native salmon populations, which has seen dramatic declines in Puget Sound for decades due to a complex mix of factors, including loss of habitat, climate change and pollution.

The decision was greeted by Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, who issued a statement on the June 11 ruling.

“Today is a great day for salmon, tribes, treaty rights and everyone who lives in western Washington. This Supreme Court ruling means more salmon for everyone,” the statement said.

King County executive Dow Constantine also released a statement commending the court for ending the long-running lawsuit. The county has already been taking inventory of fish-blocking culverts on county roads.

“Now, it is the time to set aside acrimony and disagreement, and get to work reducing barriers to fish passage,” Constantine said.

However, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement that many state-owned culverts are upstream from private, local or federal culverts that already impede fish passage. King County owns several thousand more culverts than the state, Ferguson said.

“It is unfortunate that Washington state taxpayers will be shouldering all the responsibility for the federal government’s faulty culvert design. The Legislature has a big responsibility in front of it to ensure the state meets its obligations under the court’s ruling,” Ferguson said in the release.

The ruling came days after the state Supreme Court ruled that the state had fulfilled its obligation to fully fund basic education in accordance with the McCleary Decision. The legislature this session passed a new salary model for employees, which in addition to a 2017 overhaul of the state’s funding system, brought the state into compliance by increasing a $1.8 billion increase in funds over two years.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bellevuereporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bellevuereporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Photo courtesy of the Bellevue Fire Department Twitter page
Mercer Island Marine Patrol recovers Bellevue man who drowned in Lake Washington

Mercer Island’s Marine Patrol recovered an adult male who drowned in Lake… Continue reading

Photo courtesy of the Bellevue Fire Department Twitter page
Bellevue, Mercer Island emergency responders search for missing man in Lake Washington

Staff Report Members of the Mercer Island Police Department (MIPD) Marine Patrol… Continue reading

Freshwater variety of kokanee salmon from Lake Sammamish. 	File photo
Researchers track ‘mysterious’ kokanee salmon in region

Kokanee in Lake Washington and Sammamish are genetically unique. Over the past decades, their numbers have dwindled.

A protective mask hanging on a front door. (Sound Publishing file photo)
King County to lift indoor mask mandate on June 29

About 1.3 million county residents have completed their COVID-19 vaccine series.

File photo
King County leaders propose emergency funding for gun violence prevention initiative

Sixty-nine people were reportedly shot during the first quarter of 2021.

Pills taken during police investigation (photo credit: Bellevue Police)
Renton man charged with homicide after selling fentanyl pills to a Bellevue woman

Law enforcement warns of an alarming increase in fentanyl deaths.

t
Bellevue shines in fastpitch and lacrosse action

Bellevue fastpitch hurler Rachel Treves fires away during the Wolverines’ 11-1 victory… Continue reading

Photos by Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
King County Council approves $631 million emergency COVID budget

Staff reports The King County Council approved a seventh round of emergency… Continue reading

Flames attack the hillside in Bonney Lake on Sept. 8, 2020. (East Pierce Fire & Rescue photo)
WA firefighters brace for potentially busy weekend

Washington state Department of Natural Resources firefighters were preparing for what could… Continue reading

Most Read