Culverts can increase stream velocities as a result of reduced waterway areas and prevent upstream passage of small non-salmonid fish such as the Native Utah Leatherside chub (Gila copei) and Longnose dace (Rhinichthyscataractae). To mitigate this problem, current culvert design standards for fish passage match sustained fish swim speeds with average cross sectional velocity through the culvert. Such policies dictate relatively large barrels and do not recognize the role of reduced velocity zones near culvert boundaries. Obstacles and streambed substrate create turbulent regions with lower velocity zones that can increase upstream fish passage. A comparison of upstream passage success using native Utah fish in an experimental flume was conducted with three different conditions: (1) a smooth boundary, (2) a smooth boundary with strategically placed cylinders, and (3) a boundary consisting of natural substrate. The refuge provided by the cylinders and substrate allowed fish to expend less energy as they swam upstream. Energy expenditure was compared between the conditions by mapping the velocity field near the boundary and tracing fish swim paths. Substrate provided sufficient refuge for the fish to behave in a manner similar to their behavior in a natural environment and with significantly reduced energy expenditure. Cylinders provided limited refuge that allowed fish to rest periodically as they navigated the flume. The smooth boundary case required the highest energy expenditure as there was no refuge provided. Fish swimming capabilities in the form of prolonged and burst velocities have been recorded for most species. Streamwise velocity near the boundary can be compared to the prolonged and burst swim speeds to predict passage rates. Further field testing is necessary to fully substantiate the effectiveness of utilizing reduced velocity zones in non-salmonid fish passage prediction. If such a design approach can be used instead of using the conservative but overly simplistic average velocity to evaluate the retrofit of existing culverts and to design new culverts it will help minimize costs and result in fewer culvert replacements and smaller and simpler new designs. Other implications such as downstream effects on stream bed stability and scour remain an issue.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Civil and Environmental Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





fish passage, culvert hydraulics, native Utah fishes