Four studies were done in the upper Merced River drainage in Yosemite National Park and nearby areas from 1993 to 1996. First, monitoring studies of benthic algae, benthic invertebrates, fish, and habitat were undertaken at sites near Happy Isles and Pohono bridges from 1993 to 1995 as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. Second, an ecological survey of benthic algae, benthic invertebrates, fish, and habitat was done in the upper Merced River drainage in 1994. Third, a special study of benthic algae, habitat, and water quality was done in the reach of the Merced River within Yosemite Valley to deter-mine whether human activities were having measurable effects on the ecosystem. Fourth, baseline data on benthic algae, benthic invertebrates, and habitat were collected in 1996 at four sites, two of which were undergoing extensive streambank restoration activities. Comparisons of the baseline data with future collections could be used to assess the effects of streambank restoration on aquatic biota.
The general conclusion from these studies is that water quality in the upper Merced River was very good from 1993-1996, despite high levels of human activities in some areas. Fish communities did not appear to be a useful indicator of habitat and water quality because of low species richness and the apparent importance of physical barriers in determining species distributions. Measurements of fish densities and size-distributions might be useful, but would be logistically difficult. Benthic algae and benthic invertebrates do appear to be useful in monitoring environmental conditions. Benthic algae may be more sensitive than benthic invertebrates to small environmental differences within years. Benthic algae were also more responsive than benthic invertebrates to differences in discharge between years. Thus, benthic invertebrates may be more useful in comparing environmental conditions between years, independent of discharge conditions.