On the last day before the 2019 Washington State legislative session officially concluded, state lawmakers approved a capital budget that provides the majority of funding needed for the Middle Fork Nooksack River Fish Passage project, a key legislative priority of the City of Bellingham.
The project will remove a diversion dam and restore fish passage to 16 miles of critical habitat for three threatened fish species.
According to river restoration project manager April McEwen, with American Rivers, the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration (PSAR) program was sufficiently funded by the state capital budget “to cover the full requested amount for its number one ranked Middle Fork Nooksack River project."
The Middle Fork Nooksack River project will receive $10,560,250.
“Last year we submitted a competitive grant application to the Puget Sound Partnership for funding consideration by the PSAR Fund Large Capital Project program," said McEwen. “Through the competitive review process, the Middle Fork project was ranked as the top priority."
That ranking ultimately enabled the project to receive PSAR funding, once the budget was approved by lawmakers. The PSAR Fund, co-managed through the state's Recreation and Conservation Office and Salmon Recovery Funding Board, was included in the state's 2019-2021 capital budget.
Project Engineer Steve Day, P.E., said the project resulted from a collaborative team effort and partnership that includes the City of Bellingham, American Rivers, Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Resources Legacy Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others.
When the project is completed in 2020, salmon will be able to access approximately 16 miles of pristine upstream habitat. This project is especially important to restore Chinook salmon runs, a vital food source for the struggling Puget Sound orca whale population.
In addition to improving conditions for Chinook salmon, the Middle Fork Nooksack project will also increase protection of the upper watershed and contribute to recovery of threatened steelhead and bull trout populations.