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How Healthy Is Your Favorite Stream?


Just how healthy, ecologically speaking, is your favorite stream?  Several years ago researchers from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Program (EMAP),Remap1 state agencies, and other federal agencies assessed the ecological condition of streams throughout the West, including Arizona. During 2007 researchers from Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) evaluated streams in the Little Colorado River Basin, and are now statistically assessing the data.  In addition to assessing the ecological condition of the Little Colorado River Basin streams, ADEQ is evaluating whether their methods and EMAP methods are comparable enough to combine them for assessment and other research purposes.  ADEQ will use results of this study to help determine the feasibility of implementing the EMAP approach in its ambient monitoring program and in its 305b biological integrity assessments.

Streams within the Little Colorado River Basin on non-tribal lands.

Data collection.
Arizona Game and Fish Department, along with USGS, assistedremap2 ADEQ in collecting biological, chemical, and physical-habitat data from 32 stream sites in the Little Colorado River watershed using both the ADEQ and EMAP bioassessment methods during ADEQ’s spring monitoring period of April through June, 2007.  Arizona Game and Fish Department provided leadership for the EMAP sampling, measuring aquatic vertebrate assemblages, macroinvertebrate assemblages, periphyton assemblages, water chemistry, habitat and “stressor” indicators (e.g., land use/land cover in watersheds, habitat degradation). 

remap 3Assessment.
Indices of biological integrity (IBI) for aquatic vertebrate, macroinvertebrate, and algal assemblages were used to assess the condition of stream sites.  An IBI is the sum of several individual measures or metrics into a total score, which measures the capability of a community of organisms to support and maintain a balanced community with species composition, diversity, and functional organization comparable to that of least-disturbed habitat in a region.  Reference sites were used to develop criteria for most-disturbed, intermediately disturbed, and least disturbed categories for these three IBIs.  Each site was then categorized into the three categories for each assemblage based on IBI scores.  Preliminary results indicate that streams in the Little Colorado River Basin are mostly in poor ecological condition.   Forty-two percent of the stream length was assessed to be in most-disturbed condition with regard to the aquatic vertebrate IBI, and 67% was in most disturbed condition with regard to aquatic macroinvertebrates.  Non-native aquatic vertebrates, degraded riparian vegetation, phosphorus, and non-native crayfish were the most extensive stressors.  However, not all of these posed statistically significant risk to the macroinvertebrate or aquatic vertebrate assemblages.  Stressors that posed significant risk to the macroinvertebrate assemblage were non-native crayfish, habitat degradation, and riparian disturbance, and only low dissolved oxygen concentrations and high salinity concentrations posed significant risk to the aquatic vertebrate assemblage.

A final report is due by June 2009.

Benefits:  remap4
The Department and cooperating agencies benefit by determining the ecological condition of streams in the Little Colorado River Basin, and by determining which stressors are likely causing poor condition.  This information will allow ADEQ and the Department to focus management actions to remove or minimize stressors that likely have the most effect on aquatic assemblages and thus improve the ecological condition of Little Colorado River Basin streams. 

For more information contact:
Anthony Robinson, Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000.
Phone: (623) 236-7376           E-mail:

Lorraine Avenetti, Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000.
Phone: (623) 236-7514           E-mail:


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