King County's 2019-20 budget gives a nod to the ongoing effort to save local orcas.
Approved by the County Council Tuesday, the budget includes $12.5 million to fix culverts under county-owned roads and trails. That will reopen about 150 miles of salmon habitat, according to the budget summary.
The effort will be funded in part by a 20 percent increase in the surface water management fee imposed in unincorporated King County.
Another $3 million will be invested to assess and implement alternative water quality investments.
Hundreds of thousands more will be invested to control sewer outflows and update the long-term control plan, use debt financing to support $148 million to protect key habitat, urban open space, and forest and farms, and investing $45 million in funding and grants to restore shoreline habitat.
"The residents of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea face growing challenges from pollution, habitat loss, and climate change," King County Executive Dow Constantine's budget summary states.
Researchers have urged more of a focus on salmon habitat restoration as they work to increase the local orca population. Last month, Gov. Jay Inslee and members of a state task force were asked to increase salmon populations to boost the well-being of South Resident killer whales.
“Put simply, orca need more Chinook salmon available on a year-round basis, as quickly as possible,” a letter to the governor and task force reads.
The Southern Resident population dropped to a 35-year low of 74 orcas over the summer following the death of ailing orca J50. They face several challenges in addition to lack of prey, including pollution and boat noise.
The scientists asked the task force to recommend first increasing spill levels at Columbia and Snake River dams to 125 percent dissolved gas and then remove the Snake River dams entirely.