WDFW unveils culvert to save spawning salmon, part of potential $4 billion statewide project

The state spent close to $500,000 to build the brand new culvert in Lewis County.

ONALASKA, Wash. — The Middle Fork of the Newaukum River is a significant spot for spawning salmon.

For decades, a 3-foot culvert that sat under Middle Fork Road in Onalaska was often their demise.

“These culverts were built to move water. They weren't really designed to move fish,” said Kaleen Cottingham, Recreation and Conservation Office director.

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Culverts are large pipes that carry streams under roads. Many are too high, too steep, or too small for migrating fish to swim through.

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"The fish can't physically swim through a pipe full of rapid, rushing water,” said Tom Jameson, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife chair fish passage division manager.

The state spent close to $500,000 to build the brand new culvert in Lewis County.

It's the Fish Barrier Removal Board's first completed project. The board unveiled the structure Wednesday afternoon.

Washington is under a federal injunction and required to redo many state-owned barriers across Puget Sound.

The board has raised more than $46 million, which will fund 77 projects.

Jameson said it'll cost close to $4 billion, and take another decade, to rebuild the hundreds of culverts that block migrating fish.

"The injunction against the state, it goes on in perpetuity, so as new barriers pop up under state owned roadways, they'll have to be fixed also,” he said.

Conservationists said the construction is worth it.

Many culverts are channels Chinook salmon swim through, which are critical to the southern resident orca population.

"They're just waiting for us to do the work that we need to do,” said Cottingham.

The state has a deadline of 2030 to restore 90% of potential salmon habitats blocked by culverts.