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Skagit County Fish Passage Improvement

One of the most significant barriers to restoring salmonid populations is blocked access to habitat upstream (Shear and Steel, 2006). Many culverts are in a degraded state, undersized, or installed in such a manner that aquatic species, including federally threatened Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Trout, Coho, Pink, Chum, and Sockeye Salmon, resident trout, and many other species, cannot access habitat upstream. In some cases, these culverts can block miles of suitable rearing or spawning habitat. There are many grant funding sources that focus on culvert replacements but they are nationally or regionally competitive, requiring a substantial amount of effort to write grant proposals. Design is funded less often than construction because the benefits aren’t as acutely known. Note, there are many resources available to private property owners (see Skagit Fisheries under More Information).

Skagit County acknowledges the role our infrastructure can play in blocking access to habitat and have been actively working to replace barrier culverts since the early 1990s. By doing so, the County not only is able to contribute to salmon recovery, but aging infrastructure is updated, often providing multiple benefits including traffic improvements, flooding reduction, and more. In 2014, the County attempted to prioritize culverts and brought nine to conceptual level design (Watershed Company, 2014). Due to funding constraints in available grant programs, only one has been fully constructed since that time. Beginning in 2016, Skagit County partnered with Skagit River Systems Cooperative (SRSC), Upper Skagit Indian Tribe (USIT), and Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group (SFEG) to assess culverts for fish passability according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Barrier Assessment Methods to create a targeted approach for replacement over time.


Identification and Optimization Process

As a group, we assessed over 1,000 culverts to determine barrier status. In June 2020, SRSC published a report detailing findings from the assessment work completed by USIT, SFEG, and the County. The full report can be found online here. This report made no effort to prioritize culvert replacement as each organization as their own charge, but it did provide an up-to-date list of known barriers, why they are barriers, how much habitat they block, the current condition of the culvert, and other features helpful in determining a replacement order. There were some limitations to the completion of this report. Most notably, the report did not include the Samish watershed, the Skagit estuary, Fidalgo Island and upstream of the Gorge Dam at Newhalem due to some complicating factors in those areas. Work is ongoing to evaluate culverts in those sectors and the report will be updated over time with this information and updated culvert assessments within the original geographic area.

This group identified 107 barrier culverts and 15 culverts with unknown barrier status that are directly under ownership of Skagit County.  There are numerous ways improvement of these culverts could be prioritized, and significant time could be spent trying to reach consensus among all our partners and stakeholders.  With the immediate and critical situation involving our regional salmon stocks and the endangered Puget Sound Orca population, Skagit County plans to move forward and begin making positive progress.  Skagit County has chosen to select culverts that have no known barriers downstream.  When determining which culverts to prioritize from here, important factors included are percent passability, available habitat upstream, species use, culvert condition, and road maintenance needs.  


Skagit County quickly became aware that working through the standard grant process would take an unacceptable amount of time to complete restoration of our key culverts. The County reached out to the legislature to request $1 million to fund design of key culverts within the County. The County will be providing matching dollars to complete a total of 11 culvert designs by December 2025. The intent is that these designs will be more competitive for construction grant funding, allowing replacement on a much shorter timeline.

The County was awarded the $1 million in funding from the state legislature with a start date of July 1, 2022.  The County hired ExcelTech as the consultant to complete designs of these culverts, with rolling deadlines so that we can stagger construction requests. We have identified eleven culverts, two within the Samish watershed and the remainder within the Skagit watershed (see map and table below).

Projects Overview
County Priority  Site ID  Road  MP  Stream  Latitude  Longitude  Most Recent Visit  Barrier Reason  Passability 
GN16  South Skagit Highway  6.98  Sorenson Creek  48.48858  -122.10462  03/17/2016  Drop and Slope  0% 
FR13  Friday Creek Rd  1.694  Butler Creek  48.59561  -122.32834  04/26/2022  Slope  33% 
FR14  Old Hwy 99  7.919  Butler Creek  48.59445  -122.3241  01/27/2009  Slope  33% 
GN18  South Skagit Highway  5.52  Gilligan Creek  48.48553  -122.13554  03/20/2019  Slope  33% 
04.0675 0.54  Concrete-Sauk Valley Road  12.2  Rudd Creek  48.45483  -121.61004  01/30/2018  Drop  33% 
GN19  South Skagit Highway  5.34  Stevens Creek  48.48426  -122.13885  01/09/2017  Slope  33% 
CR142  Bulson Road  4.11  Bulson Creek  48.34488  -122.31261  06/07/2018  Slope  33% 
CD6  Sauk Store Rd  0.6  Unnamed  48.50488  -121.6592  02/02/2011  Drop  0% 
CR80  Starbird Rd  1.69  Unnamed  48.30813  -122.27557  04/19/2016  Drop  0% 
10  CD5  Sauk City Road  0.1  Unnamed  48.50122  -121.65572  12/09/2010  Drop  0% 
11  999114  Tyee Road  0.523  Unnamed  48.31918  -122.2803  04/19/2016  Debris  0% 

Project Schedules [Pdf]


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