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CoRenewal Protects Waterways from Toxic Wildfire Runoff

Join Forces, Use Mushrooms to Protect Waterways from Toxic Wildfire Runoff

After a devastating wildfire season, a grassroots coalition of neighbors and community organizations has come together to protect ecosystems and waterways around Santa Cruz County. CoRenewal, a 501(c)3 non-profit focused on ecological restoration and bioremediation research, is organizing an innovative study on solutions to address this urgent environmental and public health issue. In addition to their research, CoRenewal has joined forces with the Resource Conservation Department as well as with local groups like the Wildfire Protectors Corps and Santa Cruz Relief to coordinate workdays with teams of volunteers.

In locations where human-made structures have burned, the coalition is installing biofiltration systems to prevent soil erosion and filter toxic runoff before it enters our creeks and rivers.

“The CZU fire burned extremely hot and on some very steep slopes,” says CoRenewal’s Executive Director Maya Elson, “There is a high probability of having massive debris flow. A variety of toxic chemicals from burned houses could move right into our waterways.” The phenomenon of polluting plumes of toxins entering sensitive aquatic  ecosystems is being called the post-fire ‘secondary disaster.’ Elson cautions against inaction; “if we don’t act now, endangered species – such as the Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout – run the risk of experiencing further habitat losses due to contamination and mudslides in our watersheds.

Teams of scientists and volunteers visit burned sites and install “mycowattles” around the perimeter where the structures once stood. These long, straw-stuffed tubes inoculated with fungi and native microbes help to filter, mitigate, and biodegrade toxic debris and ash-effluent. These remediation efforts may also help hold more water in the soil, limiting the spread of potential future wildfires. This study aims to strengthen the foundation of evidence-based post-fire restoration methods. There are additional test sites in Lake, Napa, and Mendocino counties, working with fire survivors at residential sites burned during the Lighting Complex, Glass, and Oak fires.

As the rainy season begins, there is mounting urgency around this project, and CoRenewal has organized a crowdfunding campaign to support their work. Visit for more information.