The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is working to increase salmon runs by improving local habitat.

Over the past few years staff have focused their efforts on replacing culverts that posed obstacles to both adult fish returning to spawn and juveniles heading to sea.

It’s part of a collaborative effort of the Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership that includes local, state and federal agencies.

“A lot of road designs in the past weren’t thinking about fish so much. They were trying to move vehicles across the roads, trying to get water underneath those roads,” said Trent Liebich with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “We’re learning over time moving adults upstream is one thing but we also need to be able to move those juveniles as well.”

About 10 years ago, the Mat-Su Borough found 80% of its culverts were “inadequate” or “marginal” when it came to fish passage.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also identified and mapped hundreds of culverts that needed to be replaced.

Improving fish passage is important for the health of future salmon runs.

“The presence and availability of salmon kind of runs deep in our blood as Alaskans. It supports commercial fishermen and their families, it supports all the sportfishermen," said The ADF&G Mat-Su Area manager for the Division of Habitat Jonathan Kirsch.

A new culvert at Cottonwood Creek on Riverdell Drive is one of more than 100 borough crews have installed over the past few years. 

The wider culvert makes it easier for salmon to pass through and will cut down on maintenance costs.

Mat-Su Borough Public Works Department project manager Alex Senta said that area had an issue with ice backing up over the road in the winter because of the small size of the culvert.

“When we replace them like this it reduces the long-term maintenance cost because we basically never have to come in and do anything else,” Senta said. “The stream acts as its own maintenance, basically. They’re large enough to pass debris, and they don’t get clogged, and the ice doesn’t back up anymore.”

Crews are also working on a culvert replacement project in Caswell this summer. They’ll continue to do the higher priority projects as funding comes in.

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