What would you need to save the salmon in Washington?

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As InvestigateWest reported in 2019, Washington is making slow progress in responding to the Federal Court ruling on culverts. It had repaired 66 of the 992 culverts by the end of 2018, at a rate of 11 per year. “To meet the deadline imposed by the court, this rate should accelerate to around 84 corrections per year,” said journalist Brad Shannon. As of June 1, 2021, the DOT had fixed at least 20 other injunction-related obstacles, opening up a total of 383 habitat miles.

Not all counties and towns with a problematic culvert will be able to afford the most attractive option. Data from the state’s Department of Transportation shows that barrier projects average $ 185,000 for private landowners, $ 1.25 million for counties and $ 1.8 million for cities. The ministry estimates its funding needs to meet the initial injunction requirements would be around $ 4 billion, with each project costing an average of $ 5.1 million. In the 2021-2023 biennial state budget, $ 400 million was spent on culvert repairs.

For the most part in the region, says Lewis, we are still at the point where there are a lot of low-litigation projects. But Whiteman Cove can be educational on how people might handle more complex projects in the future.

“As we go along… we’re going to find out that these more difficult projects are going to become more common in 20 years, once we’re done with the ones where the interests really align,” he says.

The Squaxin Island tribe is currently in talks regarding a situation very similar to Capitol Lake in Olympia, which was once a free-flowing estuary on the Deschutes River. “There is a lot of interest in restoring natural processes, but also a lot of reluctance on the part of the public to turn what is now a freshwater lake into a tidal-influenced estuary,” Glasgow explains. There is a draft environmental impact study for this project, which, although not part of the injunction, is a priority of the Squaxin tribe.


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