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Effects of Stock Use and Backpackers on Water Quality in Wilderness in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, USA

Abstract

During 2010–2011, a study was conducted in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI) to evaluate the influence of pack animals (stock) and backpackers on water quality in wilderness lakes and streams. The study had three main components: (1) a synoptic survey of water quality in wilderness areas of the parks, (2) paired water quality sampling above and below several areas with differing types and amounts of visitor use, and (3) intensive monitoring at six sites to document temporal variations in water quality. Data from the synoptic water quality survey indicated that wilderness lakes and streams are dilute and have low nutrient and Escherichia coli concentrations. The synoptic survey sites were categorized as minimal use, backpacker-use, or mixed use (stock and backpackers), depending on the most prevalent type of use upstream from the sampling locations. Sites with mixed use tended to have higher concentrations of most constituents (including E. coli) than those categorized as minimal-use (P ≤ 0.05); concentrations at backpacker-use sites were intermediate. Data from paired-site sampling indicated that E. coli, total coliform, and particulate phosphorus concentrations were greater in streams downstream from mixed-use areas than upstream from those areas (P ≤ 0.05). Paired-site data also indicated few statistically significant differences in nutrient, E. coli, or total coliform concentrations in streams upstream and downstream from backpacker-use areas. The intensive-monitoring data indicated that nutrient and E. coli concentrations normally were low, except during storms, when notable increases in concentrations of E. coli, nutrients, dissolved organic carbon, and turbidity occurred. In summary, results from this study indicate that water quality in SEKI wilderness generally is good, except during storms; and visitor use appears to have a small, but statistically significant influence on stream water quality.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Annie Esperanza, Gregg Fauth, and Sylvia Haultain at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for help with logistics and providing visitor-use data. Constructive suggestions on the manuscript were provided by Katie Walton-Day, Erik Meyer, Don Seale, and three anonymous reviewers. This research was supported by the NPS. Disclaimer: Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to David W. Clow.

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Clow, D.W., Forrester, H., Miller, B. et al. Effects of Stock Use and Backpackers on Water Quality in Wilderness in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, USA. Environmental Management 52, 1400–1414 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-013-0166-x

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Keywords

  • Sierra Nevada
  • Escherichia coli
  • Coliform
  • Visitor use
  • Water quality