Twenty sites in the lower San Joaquin River drainage, California, were sampled from 1993 to 1995 to characterize fish communities and their associations with measures of water quality and habitat quality. The feasibility of developing an Index of Biotic Integrity was assessed by evaluating four fish community metrics, including percentages of native fish, omnivorous fish, fish intolerant of environmental degradation, and fish with external anomalies. Of the thirty-one taxa of fish captured during the study, only 10 taxa were native to the drainage. Multivariate analyses of percentage data identified four site groups characterized by different groups of species. The distributions of fish species were related to specific conductance, gradient, and mean depth; however, specific conductance acted as a surrogate variable for a large group of correlated variables. Two of the fish community metrics - percentage of introduced fish and percentage of intolerant fish - appeared to be responsive to environmental quality but the responses of the other two metrics - percentage of omnivorous fish and percentage of fish with anomalies - were less direct. The conclusion of the study is that fish communities are responsive to environmental conditions, including conditions associated with human-caused disturbances, particularly agriculture and water development. The results suggest that changes in water management and water quality could result in changes in species distributions. Balancing the costs and benefits of such changes poses a considerable challenge to resource managers.