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Project using fungi to restore creek continues

Project using fungi to restore creek continues

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The concept for the project was relatively simple: grow oyster mushrooms in burlap bags along Corvallis’ Sequoia Creek. The hope: the mushrooms’ mycelium (roots) would digest pollution in the water that drains into the creek.

However, after placing their first bag along Sequoia Creek in January, Ocean Blue Project leaders had their first hiccup: The bag washed away when rains swelled the creek bank.

However, volunteers with Ocean Blue Project have continued restoration efforts along portions of the creek between the Coffee Culture and Taco Bell on Northwest Ninth Street, most recently Nov. 1.

During eight cleanups, volunteers removed nearly 700 pounds of garbage from the creek, and also tore out invasive species such as Himalayan blackberry. In their place, they planted trees, such as cottonwood, to help prevent erosion of the stream banks. They also placed new bags of oyster mushroom spawn along the creek.

Richard Arterbury, the president of the Ocean Blue Project, said the stream restoration project will continue attempting to use fungi’s natural processes to reduce pollution in the creek this winter. He’s trying to design a version of the burlap bag that will float and be anchored in place, so the organization can continue to study the impact of the fungi on water quality.

“I think we’re going to have a major difference,” he said.

The concept of using fungi in soil cleanup has been used successfully in studies. The Corvallis project is inspired by the work of biologist Paul Stamets, the author of “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.” Stamets has funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to study the use of fungi in filtering E. coli bacteria from water. 

Arterbury hopes that the new system for floating bags can be made by adding wood chips to the bags, and anchoring them in place with other salvaged materials. The burlap fungal bags, from Coffee Culture, once held coffee beans. Arterbury is optimistic that the project could be scaled up, and he is hoping to get grants to fund it.

“I’m doing every bit of this on a really small, shoestring budget, which makes me really happy, because it shows what we can do when the grants come in,” he said.

In addition to introducing the new fungal bags, Arterbury said that he and Ocean Blue Project volunteers are planning to canvass residents who live in about 500 houses along Sequoia Creek to introduce the organization’s work along the creek to them, and talk about the impact on the creek of pesticides and fertilizers.

Arterbury said he’d like to see the creek’s health improve to the point where species like frogs would return to it, and he sees the restoration effort as a project that will take years.

“At first I thought it was quick; you clean it; you leave; you move on to the next creek," he said. "But if you leave, everything you’ve done gets undone.”

Iris Benson, the storm water pollution prevention program specialist with the city of Corvallis, said she approved the use of the fungal bags in the creek because she’d concluded that if the Ocean Blue Project was using biodegradable materials, it wouldn’t have a negative impact on the creek. While she’s read about fungi being used in soil cleanup, she said she wasn’t sure Ocean Blue Project’s use of fungi was the most effective approach to using fungi in restoration.

“We’re open to the idea,” she said. “I think (fungal restoration techniques) applied in the right way could have some impact.”

Anthony Rimel is the education reporter for the Corvallis Gazette-Times, and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net or 541-758-9526.

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