Applications Open For Cantwell-Led, $1 Billion Salmon Habitat Recovery Program, Announces Buttigieg

Program will pay for removal of culverts that block salmon from reaching spawning grounds; Cantwell authored the program and secured one billion in new grant funding

ISSAQUAH, WA – At a press conference today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as he announced that the Department today opened applications for Tribal, state, and local governments to access a total of $1 billion over five years from the new National Culvert Removal, Replacement and Restoration-Culvert Aquatic Organism Passage Program established by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“Salmon travel hundreds of miles to spawn, only to be blocked by barriers within a few miles of pristine habitat. Simply put, culverts are wiping out salmon on the one-yard line,” said Senator Cantwell. “This new program will provide $1 billion over five years to help communities nationwide modernize culverts on local roads, railways, and other transportation infrastructure that currently block fish from vital spawning grounds.”

“With this investment, we’re helping protect local economies that count on healthy fisheries and also make key roads less prone to flooding,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this first-in-its-kind effort will begin to address the longstanding challenges posed by existing culverts for fishing and Tribal communities, from the Pacific Northwest to the low-lying communities in the Southeast.”

This grant program, which was created by Sen. Cantwell and passed through her Commerce Committee with overwhelming bipartisan support, builds on the over $2 billion to support fish passage under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and will specifically help communities remove and repair culverts found under roads. Historically, culverts were not constructed in a manner to ensure fish passage, those historical structures are especially problematic for coastal and Tribal communities for whom thriving fish populations are critical to their Treaty Rights, as well as the regional economy and way of life in the Pacific Northwest.

The grant application deadline is February 6, 2023. Information on how to apply for the Culvert AOP Program is available on the FHWA web site.

Secretary Buttigieg made the announcement alongside Carey Creek, one of more than 900 culverts blocking fish passage in King County. The County recently named Carey Creek one of the top 20 highest priority projects. Endangered Chinook and steelhead, plus sockeye, coho, and cutthroat trout all pass through Carey Creek, in South King County. The health of the Chinook population is crucial to recovery of another iconic endangered species, our Southern resident orcas. Just beyond the culvert, there is pristine cool water habitat that is resilient to climate change because of minimal development, healthy habitat along the river banks, and densely wooded areas.

Barriers to freshwater migration are a major cause of declining populations of anadromous fish, which live primarily in the ocean, but return to freshwater streams to spawn. The competitive Culvert Grant Program will help remove or redesign culverts and weirs that create such barriers, allowing anadromous fish populations – including salmon, sturgeon, lamprey, shad and river herring – which require access to freshwater habitats to spawn. 

Culverts and weirs are both engineered structures that impact the flow of water in rivers and streams. A weir allows for the controlled passage of water over a low headed dam, while a culvert allows for the subterranean passage of water through a channel underneath an obstacle, such as a road.

A livestream of the event is available HERE.

A transcript of Senator Cantwell’s remarks is availableHERE.

A transcript of Secretary Buttigieg’s remarks is available HERE.