Stillaguamish Tribe testing how mushrooms improve water quality

The Stillaguamish Tribe is testing ways to use mushroom spawn to improve water quality in agricultural areas.

The process, called mycoremediation, allows contaminated water to filter through the fungus’ fibrous roots, which helps reduce fecal contaminants.

“Mycoremediation could help improve surface water management on farms by getting rid of fecal coliform without having to excavate or give up farming,” said Kate Konoski, the natural resources technician for the tribe who is conducting the study. “It’s low-impact, low-cost remediation.”

The lower Stillaguamish River watershed is dominated by agriculturally zoned land. Pollutants from farms include excess nutrients, fecal matter and pesticide contaminated runoff. Excess nutrient and fecal loads can reduce available oxygen, while metals and emerging contaminants can negatively affect salmon spawning.

“Non-point source pollution is one of the biggest challenges to salmon and watershed recovery, because we can’t always identify who is responsible,” said Franchesca Perez, the tribal biologist who wrote the project proposal. “The usual solutions include fencing and riparian buffers, which are expensive and unpopular with farmers who need to use every square inch of their land to stay in business.”

The tribe is working with farmer John Connelly on property along the South Fork Stillaguamish River. Konoski created a barrier around a pile of cow manure with “mycobags” seeded with blue oyster mushroom spawn.

So far, sampling above and below this fungal garden has shown a reduction in contaminants after the water has passed through the fungal root system, or mycelia.

The tribe hopes to expand the project to be a model for other local farmers.

For more information, contact: Kate Konoski, natural resources technician, Stillaguamish Tribe, 360-547-2691 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, NWIFC, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].