Biological investigations were conducted in the Yakima River Basin, Washington, in conjunction with a pilot study for the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Ecological surveys were conducted at 25 sites in 1990 to (1) assess water-quality conditions based on fish, benthic invertebrate, and algal communities; (2) determine the hydrologic, habitat, and chemical factors that affect the distributions of these organisms; and (3) relate physical and chemical conditions to water quality. Results of these investigations showed that land uses and other associated human activities influenced the biological characteristics of streams and rivers and overall water-quality conditions.
Fish communities of headwater streams in the Cascades and Eastern Cascades ecoregions of the Yakima River Basin were primarily composed of salmonids and sculpins, with cyprinids dominating in the rest of the basin. The most common of the 33 fish taxa collected were speckled dace, rainbow trout, and Paiute sculpin. The highest number of taxa (193) was found among the inverte- brates. Insects, particularly sensitive forms such as mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies (EPT--Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera fauna), formed the majority of the invertebrate communities of the Cascades and Eastern Cascades ecoregions. Diatoms dominated algal communities throughout the basin; 134 algal taxa were found on submerged rocks, but other stream microhabitats were not sampled as part of the study. Sensitive red algae and diatoms were predominant in the Cascades and Eastern Cascades ecoregions, whereas the abundance of eutrophic diatoms and green algae was large in the Columbia Basin ecoregion of the Yakima River Basin.
Ordination of physical, chemical, and biological site characteristics indicated that elevation was the dominant factor accounting for the distribution of biota in the Yakima River Basin; agricultural intensity and stream size were of secondary importance. Ordination identified three site groups and three community types. Site groups consisted of (1) small streams of the Cascades and Eastern Cascades ecoregions, (2) small streams of the Columbia Basin ecoregions, and (3) large rivers of the Cascades and Columbia Basin ecoregions. The small streams of the Columbia Basin could be further subdivided into two groups--one where agricultural intensity was low and one where agricultural intensity was moderate to high. Dividing the basin into these three groups removed much of the influence of elevation and facilitated the analysis of land-use effects. Community types identified by ordination were (1) high elevation, cold-water communities associated with low agricultural intensity; (2) lower elevation, warm-water communities associated with low agricultural intensity, and (3) lower elevation, warm-water communities associated with moderate to high agricultural intensity.
Multimetric community condition indices indicated that sites in the Cascades and Eastern Cascades site group were largely unimpaired. In contrast, all but two sites in the Columbia Basin site group were impaired, some severely. Agriculture (nutrients and pesticides) was the primary factor responsible for this impairment, and all impaired sites were characterized by multiple indicators of impairment. Three sites (Granger Drain, Moxee Drain, and Spring Creek) had high levels of impairment. Sites in the large-river site group were moderately to severely impaired downstream from the city of Yakima. High levels of impairment at large-river sites corresponded with high levels of pesticides in fish tissues and the occurrence of external anomalies.
The response exhibited by invertebrates and algae to a gradient of agricultural intensity suggested a threshold response for sites in the Columbia Basin site group. Community condition declined precipitously at agricultural intensities above 50 (non-pesticide agricultural intensity index) and showed little respon