$1 Billion in Infrastructure to Help Salmon Spawn

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package passed by the Senate includes $1 billion for projects that could eventually help salmon in the nation’s Pacific Northwest spawn.

The bill includes funding to remove culverts, built under roadways to allow streams to flow through, reports the Northwest News Network, which is part of Northwest Public Broadcasting.

The issue is the stream flows inside culverts that are built wrong can be too swift or too shallow for fish to navigate, according to the Fish Passage Culvert Program in Snohomish County, Washington. The organization, which works to restore aquatic habitat by replacing county-owned culverts that prevent fish migration says the culverts also can create waterfalls, which keep the salmon from moving upstream.

Earlier this year, the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office found some salmon species in the state are “on the brink of extinction” because of the loss of natural habitat, climate change, other factors are to blame, The New York Times reported.

Salmon take a major role in the culture, economy, and environment of the Pacific Northwest, where at least 138 species, from insects to orcas, depend on the fish for the food they eat, the Times noted.

In addition, the salmon support an estimated 16,000 jobs in commercial and recreational fishing, while also attracting tourists.

The proposed $1 billion would be paid out over five years. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the program will be the first of its kind on a federal level and will open the salmon spawning habitat in her state.

“The infrastructure bill makes serious investments in some of our salmon recovery challenges,” she said in a recent statement.

The federal infrastructure bill also includes other funding to benefit salmon, including $172 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, a grant program that helps states and tribes protect and restore salmon habitat. Another $132 million is included in the package for the National Estuary Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will receive $400 million to restore fish passage if the bill is passed, with 15% being set aside for tribes and tribal partnerships.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Gov. Jay Inslee, also a Democrat, said they support the legislation to recover the state’s salmon runs.

Both said they think such infrastructure plans have a better chance of being approved through the package than through a call from Simpson to add a $33.5 billion proposal to remove four Lower Snake River dams to the infrastructure deal.

Washington’s delegation said they did not back her plan, but Inslee and Murray hope to bring the dams under further discussion.

Back in 2001, 21 Native American tribes sued the state to fix more than 800 culverts. The case finally ended in a tie decision in the Washington state Supreme Court in 2018.

The ruling meant the state is required to fix most of the culverts blocking salmon flow by 2030, At the time of the decision, Washington officials said it would cost more than $2 billion to fix the culverts.

“The bipartisan infrastructure bill provides important benefits for our state. It funds culverts, grid transmission, coastal resiliency, and more,” Inslee wrote on Twitter.

A spokesman for the governor, meanwhile, said the exact amount of funding will not be known until Congress passes the bill.

Sara LaBorde, executive vice president of Wild Salmon Center, said it is vital salmon get to cold-water refuges, adding the center is not happy the bipartisan package does not include a line item to remove the Lower Snake River dams.

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