Fish Passage Improvements

The City of Bellingham encompasses eight watersheds and their associated streams (See Figure 1 below).​​​​​​ ​Most of the City’s stream reaches are fish-​bearing and support populations of both anadromous and resident salmon and trout. When streams cross roadways and other infrastructure, they often pass through a culvert or other structure.

Culvert Effects on Salmon

Some structures allow water to pass downstream, but are too narrow, too long, too steep, or installed too high above the water surface for salmon to be able to travel upstream. A single structure can block fish from utilizing miles of stream habitat. These same fish-blocking structures often present maintenance, erosion, and flooding concerns because of their inability to transport flood water, sediment and other suspended debris downstream. Improving these structures is an important way to increase habitat for fish and improve overall stream function​.

Figure 1. COB Watersheds and Wetlands Map

Fish Passage Projects

As documented in the City’s Comprehensive Plan, the City is committed to stewarding fish and wildlife habitat, including fish-bearing streams. As part of this commitment, in 2003 the City of Bellingham formally began a fish passage improvement program. The program identifies high priority barrier improvement projects for planning and implementation. This program helps meet the goals and policies of the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan​ as well as the goals and objectives of the City of Bellingham Comprehensive Stormwater Plan (PDF).

In 2003, barriers were assessed and prioritized for improvement using a local decision matrix. The City updated this approach to incorporate additional information and maintain consistency with local, State, and Federal guidance. The City continues to update the City-wide prioritization on a regular basis. For more information, please see the prioritization reports below.

Fish Passage Projects

Thus far the City has replaced or retrofitted over 20 structures to facilitate fish passage. Please see our Habitat Restoration Projects webpage for descriptions of many of these projects. ​

The photos below show the removal of a fish barrier in Padden Creek as part of the Padden Creek Daylighting project​. The first photo shows salmon gathered at the Padden tunnel outlet before the project, unable to easily move through the tunnel. The second photo shows the same general area after the project replaced the fish barrier with a new daylighted channel. 

BEFORE Padden Outlet
AFTER Padden Outlet



Analiese Burns, Habitat and Restoration Manager
Public Works Department, Natural Resources
(360) 778-7968, ​