Mushrooms to clean water

Corvallis’ Sequoia Creek + Mushrooms = Clean Water?

Using Fungus to Clean Water Sources

Volunteers from the Ocean Blue Project, an ecological restoration nonprofit group, have started a new project to clean up the waters of Corvallis’ Sequoia creek using mushrooms. You read that correctly: There is a fungus among us.

Mushroom spawn, mixed with coffee grounds and straw which will feed the mushrooms as they grow, are placed in burlap bags. The bags are then placed near storm drains and other man-made inlets to the creek; water passing through the bags is filtered by the mushrooms before entering the waterway. Mycelium, the underground portion of live fungi, has the natural ability to break down harmful toxins like oil and pesticides, and can even metabolize E. coli and other bacteria. The first test bag for the project was placed in a drainage chute off of Corvallis’ 9th Street on January 19, 2014.

Similar techniques have been used throughout the Puget Sound region by the Washington Environmental Council, and have been successful in removing fecal coliform bacteria from flowing water there. If Ocean Blue Project’s fungus bags are successful in cleaning up Sequoia Creek, the method may be applied to the nearby Willamette River, as well.

Water sample studies conducted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality between 2008 and 2012 found pesticides, flame retardants, metals, and numerous chemical ingredients in the Willamette. Additionally, the Oregon Health Authority has a standing mercury advisory warning that children should not eat more than one serving per month of resident fish species from the Willamette’s main fork; adults should not eat more than four servings.

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The fungus bag technique has the potential to be an effective, but low-cost solution to reducing waterway pollution. Both the coffee grounds and the burlap bags used in the Corvallis experiment were donated by a local coffee shop—by products of their business that would have otherwise been thrown away. Other food waste, such as grain waste from local breweries, could also be used.

As it is a relatively new technique, Ocean Blue Project will be testing water samples from the creek on a regular bases to see if and how the bags are effecting water quality. Tests will look for the presence of phosphorous, nitrates, and E. coli, as well as measuring pH and oxygen levels.

If water testing shows positive results, additional bags will be placed along the creek, and later, the project may be expanded to use mycofiltration in other areas of the Willamette River.