Hydrobiogeochemical processes controlling stream water chemistry were examined in four small (<5 km2) catchments having contrasting bedrock lithologies in the western Sierra Nevada foothills of California. The Mediterranean climate with its cool/wet and hot/dry cycle produces strong seasonal patterns in hydrological, biological and geochemical processes. Stream water solutes fall into three general groups according to seasonal fluctuation in concentration: Strong, rainy season minimum-dry season maximum (Cl-, SO42-, base cations); weak, rainy season minimum-dry season maximum (Si); and rainy season maximum-dry season minimum (NO3- and K+). Solute dynamics in soil solutions and stream water suggest that mixing of drainage waters from bedrock and soil sources regulate stream water solute concentrations. Patterns are further altered by the leaching of solutes accumulated in the soil over the summer period of desiccation and the temporal discoupling of nutrient cycles that occurs due to differences in the timing between vegetation growth (late spring) and leaching (early winter). Solute concentrations are remarkably similar between watersheds with varying bedrock types, with the exception of nitrate, sulfate and bicarbonate. Three watersheds have nitrogen-bearing metasedimentary bedrock that contributes to elevated nitrate concentrations in stream waters. Watersheds whose bedrock includes mineralized veins of sulfide and carbonate minerals similarly have greater sulfate and bicarbonate concentrations in stream water. Hydrobiogeochemical processes are highly dynamic at the seasonal and storm-event temporal scales and spatially complex at the watershed scale making management of stream water chemical composition, such as nitrate concentrations, very challenging. ?? 2001 Elsevier Science B.V.