Using Fungus To Reduce Water Pollution

SEQUIM (October 26, 2007) – Cleaning up water pollution could be as easy as growing oyster mushrooms in your backyard.

In a partnership the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, the Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratories has cultivated fungus and native plants along a local stream to see whether it will help prevent the movement of bacteria from upland sources into coastal waters.

“If using this mushroom technique works, it would be very cost-effective for removing fecal coliform and excess nutrients from the water,” said Hansi Hals, the tribe’s environmental planning and program coordinator.

Keeping Sequim Bay and the rest of the Dungeness watershed clean is important for the tribe, Hals said, because it is the tribe’s primary area for harvesting its treaty-reserved natural resources, such as shellfish and salmon. Harvesting in Sequim Bay has been closed for the past few years because of the high pollution levels.

In 2006, tribal and Battelle staff constructed a biofiltration garden in the path of a small stream that flows through pasture land. In one half, 30 species of native plants and a mulch of woodchips were installed; in the other side, the same native plants and woodchips were added, plus several types of fungi, including oyster mushrooms and stropharia.

As fungus grows in soil, it breaks down and digests organic materials, such as dead wood and garden wastes, and in the process, breaks down contaminants in the soil as well. Some species are also natural predators of bacteria; they actively destroy bacteria such as fecal coliforms that can otherwise contaminate water, said Susan Thomas, a senior research scientist with Battelle. The laboratory has done similar work in the state and has found success with this technique.

The creek is split into two small channels at the site, each flowing through one cell and emptying into a coastal wetland. Water samples are collected monthly and tested for bacteria to determine how well pollutants are filtered from the water. The study continues through January 2008.

Funding for this project came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of the tribe’s EPA Targeted Watershed Grant. The projects from the grant focus on water quality improvements in the Dungeness watershed, with emphasis on shellfish health in Dungeness Bay.


For more information, contact: Hansi Hals, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe environmental program coordinator, at (360) 681-4601 or [email protected]; Dana Woodruff, project manager, Battelle Laboratories, at (360) 681-3608 or [email protected]; or Tiffany Royal, information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, at (360) 297-6546 or [email protected].