Introduction. We evaluated periphytic algal and microbial communities to assess the influence
of human and cattle impact on Sierra water quality. Methods. 64 sites (lakes and streams from Lake Tahoe to Sequoia National Park, California)
were sampled for suspended indicator bacteria and algae following standardized procedures.
The potential for nonpoint pollution was divided into three categories: cattle-grazing
areas (C), recreation use areas (R), or remote wildlife areas (W). Results. Periphyton was found at 100% of C sites, 89% of R sites, but only 25% of W sites. Eleven species of periphytic algae were identified, including Zygnema, Ulothrix, Chlorella, Spirogyra, mixed Diatoms, and Cladophoria. Mean benthic algae coverage was 66% at C sites compared to 2% at W sites (P < 0.05). The prevalence of E. coli associated with periphyton was 100% at C sites, 25% of R sites, and 0% of W sites. Mean E. coli CFU/gm of algae detected was: C = 173,000, R = 700, W = 0. (P < 0.05). Analysis of neighboring water for E. coli bacteria >100 CFU/100 mL: C = 91%, R = 8%, W = 0 (P < 0.05). Conclusion. Higher periphytic algal biomass and uniform presence of periphyton-attached E. coli corresponded to watersheds exposed to summer cattle grazing. These differences suggest
cattle grazing compromises water quality.