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King Countys fish passage program needs $300M more funding through 2033


(The Center Square) – The King County Auditor’s Office has found that the county’s Fish Passage Restoration Program is at risk of missing its 10-year goal if funding shortfalls occur.

Also according to the audit released Tuesday, there is no plan for dealing with any such contingency.

Since the 2019-2020 budget, King County Executive Dow Constantine has spent more than $20 million on dozens of projects connected to fish passage. The 10-year work plan for fish passage originally estimated that restoring salmon access to at least half of the habitat currently blocked by county barriers would require about $150 million in funding.

However, according to the audit, current estimates indicate that the program’s work plan will require $300 million of additional funding between 2023 and 2033.

All King County agencies associated with the program told auditors that a major challenge to the program’s success is securing ongoing funding. King County funding for the program comes from a combination of stormwater management fees, the real estate excise tax, and the county’s parks levy.

Notably, these funding sources are not dedicated solely to the program and are not sufficient to cover all of the program’s project costs. The King County Fish Passage Restoration Program now plans to leverage limited county funding sources by applying for grants to fill the gap between available county funds and anticipated funding needs.

On Monday, King County received some positive news regarding its fish passage goal as President Joe Biden’s announced budget request for the 2025 fiscal year includes $500 million for the construction of a downstream fish passage facility on the Green River, 35 miles southeast of Seattle.

The audit notes that cost overruns are not uncommon on capital projects and have been experienced by state and local governments completing fish passage projects, including the Washington State Department of Transportation recently finding out that it will need an additional $3.5 billion to $4 billion dollars beyond the previously budgeted $3.8 billion for its program addressing state-owned fish barrier removal projects.

The Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife estimates there are more than 18,000 manmade structures in the state that block the passage of salmon and steelhead trout. The King County Fish Passage Restoration Program has identified over 900 fish passage barriers owned by King County, with the most common fish passage barriers being road culverts.

Since the King County Fish Passage Restoration Program has not sequenced the fish habitat-focused projects to occur first, funding shortfalls would primarily impact habitat-focused projects, which increase the risk that the program will not meet its 10-year work plan goal of opening up 50% of fish habitat by 2032.