Did we send you a postcard in the mail? Then you are in the right place! The goal of the Barrier Assessment Team with Trout Unlimited is to identify potential barriers to fish passage, help prioritize which ones have the highest potential for restoration, and connect landowners with resources to correct those barriers if they so choose. Check out the information below to see what you can do to help salmonid populations in your area! Check out our FAQ’s below!
Who We Are
What is a culvert assessment?
Culvert assessments are provided by the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited (WCTU), a non-profit volunteer organization formed to protect, reconnect and restore cold water fisheries in the state of Washington. Assessments are performed by specially trained WCTU members to determine the degree to which migratory fish such as salmon and trout can pass through a culvert (i.e. passability), either to spawn in or simply inhabit the upstream waters. Multiple measurements are taken to identify culvert characteristics that can impede fish passage and results are entered in a database of assessed culverts in western Washington, allowing culverts to be ranked in order of those most likely to provide the greatest benefit to the fish.
I’ve never seen fish in the waterway you’re interested in – is there any reason to perform an assessment?
Yes – habitat improvements often lead to fish moving into previously inaccessible waters. We take into consideration whether there is severe fish blockage downstream of a potential assessment site and would not propose an assessment upstream of known blockages.
Are assessments mandatory?
They’re not – allowing a culvert assessment to be performed on your property is strictly voluntary.
Will I have to pay for any part of this assessment?
No, there is no cost for the assessment.
What is involved in the performance of an assessment?
Because you are reading this, you have probably already been contacted by us to seek your cooperation in assessing a culvert on your property. After you have expressed interest in receiving an assessment, our assessment team leader will propose a schedule and work out basic logistics (schedule and meeting place) acceptable to you in phone calls or emails. You can expect a team of 2 – 4 trained assessment personnel to arrive at the specified time and check in with you if desired.
We first make sure we can safely perform the assessment, possibly hand-cutting a minimal amount of brush to allow access to both ends of the culvert. We then take a series of measurements that allow us to determine characteristics that may impede fish passage.
We note other pertinent conditions, take pictures of the inlet, outlet and any conditions immediately up- and down-stream showing habitat conditions and impediments to fish movement.
The collected data is analyzed to determine the culvert’s passability and findings are entered into a database of western Washington culverts that have been assessed.
Are assessments in any way dangerous?
There is always a possibility, so, while dangerous conditions may exist in unusual situations, we always adhere to a “safety first” ethic. Our approach is to assess the area in which we will be working for things like high and/or fast water, slippery or unstable footing, steep slopes, large floating debris, etc. before beginning the actual work. We seldom encounter perilous conditions and BAT members are all members of Trout Unlimited, whose insurance policy covers them individually in the unlikely event of mishaps that might occur while performing TU-sanctioned functions. While this work is important, forfeiture of anyone’s well being is a price too high.
Will an assessment tell me if a culvert upgrade is likely to be recommended?
Not by itself. Findings from the assessment can be compared to other culverts in the database mentioned above (see Items 1 & 5) and ranked in order of benefits an upgrade might provide.
How long does an assessment take and do I need to be present?
Assessments normally take on the order of 2 hours; however, each culvert is unique and conditions such as multiple culverts or difficult access can stretch the assessment to 4 or more hours. Your presence is not required, but you are certainly welcome to observe the assessment. We often find owners have knowledge of the stream, the culvert’s history or other valuable information that can help us better understand what it is we are seeing. If you are not present when the assessment is finished, we will let you know when we are leaving the site.
Will the assessment result in modifications to the existing culvert or its surroundings?
Maybe. Minor hand-clearing of vegetation interfering with access to the culvert may be required for the assessment. Other modifications are not generally required, but if something does come up we will request your permission before making any modifications.
Can I obtain the assessment findings and, if so, who should I contact?
Yes – the team leader will be able to provide our findings to you after making some calculations. They will include characteristics of the culvert (slope, water surface drops, etc.), its passability and the primary reason for any identified fish blockage. We are happy to provide the findings, but please be aware some of the terms are not likely to be familiar to you and the findings in and of themselves can not tell you whether improvements will be recommended. Follow up questions can be directed to our Volunteer BAT Coordinator, Nick Ulacia, at
Is the assessment a one-time event – is follow-up site work a possibility?
Sometimes. We will be performing what we call a “Level A” assessment. The procedures we follow were developed and are practiced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). If there are some parameters we can not quantify during this assessment, a “Level B” assessment may be called for. Level B assessments are similar to Level A assessments in terms of your cooperation, but may cover more area both upstream and downstream.
Who makes the decision as to whether a culvert upgrade is recommended?
You will be contacted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) if your culvert is considered for an upgrade.
Will I be required to make the recommended improvements?
No – recommended improvements will be made only if you agree to them. The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will contact you to provide information and ask for your cooperation/partnership in the project.
Who are the entities behind these efforts?
The Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board (FBRB) was established by the State of Washington in 2014 to guide the coordination of barrier removal by counties, cities, the State, tribal governments, regional fisheries enhancement groups, conservation districts, private landowners, and others.. Members include:
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), providing resources to aid fish barrier removal across the state and developed the assessment procedures we use
- Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), working with both large and small private forest landowners with barrier removal projects
- Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) provides the Family Forest Fish Passage Program (FFFPP) with grants to fund fish barrier removal for small privately-owned forest owners.
- Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), who has been removing fish barriers under state highways for many years
The FBRB also works with county, city and tribal governments to further efforts those entities may be undertaking to improve fish passage on a more local level. There are an estimated 40,000 culverts across the state, approximately half of which are known fish barriers. The Washington Council of Trout Unlimited (WATU, a non-profit 501(c)3), is assisting in identifying these barriers through our Barrier Assessment Team (BAT). The BAT consists of TU member volunteers trained to perform barrier assessments according to WDFW-specified procedures. We compile our assessment findings in a WDFW database, where they are ranked according to the positive impact expected from barrier removal. The most beneficial are considered for replacement and the owners (private, state, county, municipality or other) are engaged to work toward remediation.
Who will pay if recommended improvements are implemented?
Grant programs are available through the Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board (FBRB) members, with the Family Forest Fish Passage Program (FFFPP) from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) being of particular interest to small privately-owned forest owners. Details, including eligibility requirements can be found at: https://rco.wa.gov/grant/family-forest-fish-passage-program/#grant-limits
If improvements are made, will the area around the culvert be restored to allow the same activities or uses the area currently provides?
Yes, and there is the possibility of adding functionality to that area. Changes affecting activities or uses in the area around the project will need your approval before improvements are implemented. You will need to cover costs for approved changes you might desire that are determined to not be directly related to improving fish habitat.
Will I be able to review improvement plans and will I be able to refuse the upgrade after reviewing the design?
Absolutely. You will be able to review design documents and request changes prior to providing final agreement to move forward with implementation. Keep in mind you may need to pay for changes not associated with improving fish habitat.