Puget Sound Innovation Stories

Ballard Locks

Congressional District: 7

Legislative Districts: 36


City, County: Seattle, King County

Project Summary:

The Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), are critical to the region’s economy, transportation and flood control infrastructure, and environment. Connecting Puget Sound with Lakes Union and Washington, the Locks are an iconic Seattle attraction. With 45,000 vessels passing through each year, the Locks are the busiest in the country. Ensuring safe fish passage through the Locks is of paramount importance to salmon recovery efforts in the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed (WRIA 8). Every salmon in WRIA 8 must pass through the Ballard Locks twice in its life, both as a juvenile migrating out to the sea and as an adult returning to spawn. Improving fish passage supports the local, state, and federal investment of more than $125 million in habitat restoration since 1999.

Much of the machinery to operate the Locks is original and well past its design life, and some critical facilities have already failed. The poor condition of the Locks impedes salmon migration and survival in the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed (WRIA 8). Safe passage and survival of salmon depends on the repair and replacement of key infrastructure, including replacing the large lock filling culvert valves and machinery, aging temporary fish passage facilities, salt water drain intake system, diffuser well exclusion screen, and redesigning and modernizing the fish ladder to improve adult passage through the Locks.

ballard locks2

If repairs are funded and implemented:

  • Improves fish passage for multiple species of salmon, including threatened Chinook salmon.
  • Ensures the investment of over $125 million in local, state, and federal funding since 1999.
  • Protects over $1.2 billion in annual economic activity, including 3,000 full-time jobs and $545 million in annual commercial fishing harvests by vessels that depend on the Locks.
  • Supports tribal treaty rights.
  • Protects vital regional and national transportation infrastructure, notably the I-90 floating bridge.
  • Protects water quality in Lake Union and Lake Washington by preventing salt water from Puget Sound to mix with fresh lake water.
  • Improves visitor experience for one of the most iconic and visited sites in the greater Seattle region.

Multiple Benefits:

Upgrading the Locks is truly a multiple benefit endeavor. The Locks are vital for environmental protection, local, regional, and national economic benefits, and ensuring public safety. Making critical repairs to the Locks is vital for improving fish passage and survival for threatened Chinook salmon populations. Improving fish passage and survival will ensure the investment of over $125 million in habitat restoration in the watershed. The Locks control water levels in Lake Washington and Lake Union to maintain key infrastructure that includes the Washington State Route 520 and Interstate 90 floating bridges, the water and sewer systems that serve Mercer Island’s 24,000 residents, and approximately 75 miles of residential, municipal and commercial shoreline and moorage. The Locks are the only marine access and egress point for equipment and supplies for major infrastructure projects such as the $4.6 billion renewal of the State Route 520 floating bridge and removal of excavated material during construction of a planned $430 million Ballard/Wallingford stormwater tunnel. The Ballard Locks are key to meeting federal trust responsibilities under treaties between the U.S. government and federally recognized tribes by protecting migrating salmon to safeguard traditional and customary tribal fishing.

Project Partners and Funders

  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed (WRIA 8)
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • Muckleshoot Indian Tribe
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • City of Seattle
  • Port of Seattle
  • King County
  • Maritime trade industry

More Info

Publish Date: May 22, 2018
Category: Salmon
Congressional Districts: Congressional Dist. 7
Legislative Districts: Legislative Dist. 36
Counties: King
Habitat Types: Puget Sound
Restoration Focuses: Salmon | Water Quality
Key Benefits:
Funding Sources: