Culvert Replacement Improves Life for Drivers – and for Fish


Project reducing flooding and helping fish is a win-win

The new Whiskey Creek Culvert is on OR 244, near the Wallowa Whitman National Forest northwest of La Grande

ODOT’s Fish Passage Program is steadily repairing and replacing critical condition culverts on its high priority Statewide Fish Passage Priority Replacement list. Most people don’t know the state has such a list, but it’s an important one.

With more than 40,000 culverts in the state – many of them needing repair or replacement – how else could you possibly tackle this challenge?

Here’s how – and why it’s so critical.

ODOT Biologist Allen Gillette explains the importance of culverts in helping Pacific Northwest fish

Replacing one of the culverts on the list in eastern Oregon would bring multiple benefits, and that’s something that helps a need rise to the top. The OR244: Whiskey Creek Culvert Replacement project opened up fish habitat for endangered fish and eased nearby, fairly common, road flooding.

The original Whiskey Creek culvert was too small and too worn out to repair. It caused periodic flooding on the state highway, which runs through the Umatilla National Forest between La Grande and Ukiah. The failing culvert was also a barrier to fish passage during high flows, and during low flows, it had a jump height barrier to juvenile fish passage! It was a lose-lose-lose situation.

To ensure success – like most efforts – it took a team. ODOT Biologist Allen Gillette with the Fish Passage Program partnered with the agency’s eastern Oregon Highway Region 5 staff members and staff from ODOT’s Culvert Program to complete the project, which included challenges with right of way and with the presence of important archaeological sites. In the end, it all worked out.

“We were able to knock out this critical condition culvert with fish passage funds,” Gillette said. “It has a new design life of 75 to 100 years, will reduce highway flooding, and provides fish passage to 15 miles of high quality habitat for Endangered Species-listed fish.”

The project replaced the existing culvert with a stream crossing that provides full year-round fish passage and meets the standards of the Federal-Aid Highway Program Endangered Species Act.

By working together across disciplines, ODOT is enhancing life for both people and fish.

About Author

Shelley Snow is the Strategic Communications Coordinator with Oregon Department of Transportation

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