Undergraduate Research Experience Project Proposal
Project PI/Research Mentor:
Matt Blank, Research Associate
PhD candidate, anticipated graduation fall 2006
M.S. in Civil Engineering
B.S. in Geological Engineering
My area of expertise is stream hydraulics, hydrology and fish passage.
Mentorship time commitment:
I will be on campus for the entire project duration. There should not be any issues with
time commitments and my availability to assist the student.
Inventory of Culvert Assessments on Fish Bearing Streams in the Pacific Northwest and
Rocky Mountain States
Research Problem Statement:
Fish passage through culverts has become a priority for many states across the nation. In
the Pacific Northwest, research has shown that culverts can severely limit the mobility
of salmon which are extremely important to the Pacific Northwest’s economy. In many
Rocky Mountain states, trout fisheries are important generators of tourism dollars and
culverts have been shown to limit trout habitat availability. Many federal agencies, such
as the Forest Service, have completed inventories of the number of culverts on fish
bearing streams, and have identified the number of culverts that have the potential to
prevent movement of fish (barrier culverts). In addition to federal lands, some states
have initiated inventories by county of the number of culverts on fish bearing streams
without limiting the analysis to federal lands. Presently, this data has not been assembled
into one document that fully describes the magnitude of the problem presented by
potential barrier culverts on fish bearing streams and allows a large-scale understanding
of this increasingly important problem.
Culverts provide an economical means of conveying water underneath roadways.
Historically, engineers designed culverts to pass water without providing for movement
of aquatic organisms such as fish. A detailed literature review has shown that salmonids
are highly mobile during all portions of the year and at all life stages (Kahler and Quinn,
1998). This combination of culverts that were not designed to pass fish and the now
apparent need for fish to move has created a problem with drastic consequences to some
of the Nation’s aquatic ecosystems. Today, many culverts do not allow for the movement
of fish and other aquatic species and are classified as “barrier culverts”.
Recognizing the problem presented by barrier culverts, many state and federal agencies
have undertaken inventories of the number of culverts on fish bearing streams on the
lands they manage and the number of culverts that are passable and impassable or
barriers to fish movement. These inventories are used by the land management agencies
to prioritize the removal, retrofit or replacement of culvert barriers. Presently, this
information is held by many different agencies without any compilation of the data
outside of the agency that collects and uses the information.
The goal of this project is to quantify and understand the magnitude of the problem
presented by barrier culverts in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain states. The
primary objective of this project is to compile and synthesize the data, and summarize in
one document all existing inventories of culverts on fish bearing streams in these regions.
This document will serve as an invaluable resource that will define the magnitude and
scope of the problem presented by barrier culverts on fish bearing streams in these
regions and can be used to educate and guide the nation to properly address the problem
of barrier culverts and the impacts they have on our nation’s aquatic resources.
The project will be accomplished in the following manner:
All state and federal agencies that manage lands in Alaska, Washington, Oregon,
Northern California, Idaho and Montana will be contacted by phone and/or e-mail and
asked to provide any and all information related to culvert inventories completed or on-
going in their respective jurisdictions. Matt Blank has a good list, provided at a National
Fish Passage Summit in Denver this past year, of the people who are involved with fish
passage and culverts in these regions.
The data will be tabulated and grouped into five basic categories: (1) number of culverts
on fish bearing streams, (2) number of total barriers (culverts that do not pass any fish
regardless of flow, species and life stage), (3) number of partial barriers (culverts that
pass certain species or life stages during some portions of the year, but not all), (4)
number of passable culverts, and (5) number of culverts not yet assessed with regards to
This information will be analyzed with basic statistics, summarized and presented in one
report. It is important to keep in mind that this document is intended to provide basic
information on the magnitude of this problem, not to analyze factors or conditions that
allow or prevent fish movement through culverts or other related analyses. Those types
of analyses require much information related to the site characteristics, hydrology and
biology of each individual setting.
The project will be accomplished according to the following schedule:
Task October November December January February March April May
Task 1 – contact agencies and gather data
Task 2 – compile existing data, group into
categories, and analyze with basic statistics
Task 3 – prepare summary report
Task 4 – prepare final presentation and present
The following table provides the number of hours anticipated to complete this project:
Task Number of Hours
Task 1 – contact agencies and 160
Task 2 – compile existing data, 120
group into categories, and analyze
with basic statistics
Task 3 – prepare summary report 100
Task 4 – prepare final presentation 20
At present, there is no document that provides a large scale understanding of the problem
presented by culverts on fish bearing streams. The final report will provide information
that will be used by transportation agencies, natural resource managers, educators,
environmental organizations, and others to guide them in addressing this emerging area.
This report will further WTI and MSU’s reputation as national leaders and visionaries in
the field of Road Ecology.
There is some research that summarizes culvert inventories for portions of states. For
instance, the United States General Accounting Office reports that there are over 2,600
barrier culverts on public land managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land
Management in Oregon and Washington alone; however, at the time of the publication
inventory efforts were still in progress and the number of barrier culverts was thought to
be as high as twice that many (GAO, 2001).
This project will require a student who has excellent communication and organizational
skills with a desire to learn about aquatic ecology and civil engineering. The student
must also have good writing skills, and a tenacious attitude to track and follow-through
with the contacts.
The final product from the student will be a report that summarizes the contacts made,
and provides the culvert inventory data as described above.