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Mississippi River - St. Cloud Watershed



Watershed at a glance

The Mississippi River - St. Cloud watershed covers 691,200 acres (1,080 square miles) in the south-central part of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The watershed includes all or parts of the counties of Benton, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns, and Wright. Communities located in the watershed include Sauk Rapids, Elk River, Big Lake, Monticello, and parts of St. Cloud. The Mississippi River - St. Cloud watershed has 907 total river miles, and has 374 lakes with a total acreage of 23,728.

Monitoring and assessment reports

Strategy development reports

Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) 07010203 [More Info]

Intensive monitoring start year 2009 [More Info]

Major lakesMajor rivers and streams

Clearwater, Elk, Mink, Maple, Cedar, Sugar, Briggs Lake Chain, Lake Maria

Mayhew Creek, Rice Creek, Clearwater, Elk, St. Francis River


Within this watershed, the Mississippi River serves a multitude of uses. St. Cloud is the first city along the Mississippi River to obtain its drinking water from this resource. The river is also used by two of Minnesota’s most important power plants (Becker and Monticello) as a non-contact cooling water source.

This stretch of the Mississippi River has been designated as a wild and scenic river. The rolling forested bluffs, numerous accesses and rest areas, along with abundant wildlife make this segment of the Mississippi River a popular route for day-long canoe trips. This portion of the river also provides excellent recreational fishing opportunities and is recognized for its high quality smallmouth bass fishing.

This watershed is on the fringe of the Twin City metropolitan area. In the recent past, during the height of the economy, significant residential development occurred within the watershed. In general, the water resources within this watershed tend to have intensively developed shorelines. Working to restore and protect the surface waters within this watershed through the implementation of best management practices is critical to the overall environmental and economic health of the area.

The major threats to the watershed include:

  • Loss of shoreline buffers and habitat due to development.
  • Introduction of large amounts of phosphorus, sediment, and bacteria to surface waters.
  • The combination of long, moderately steep slopes and easily erodible sandy loam soil that is inherently high in phosphorus.
  • Increased nutrient, contaminant, and sedimentation loading from stormwater runoff from development and other non-point sources.
  • Protecting drinking water supplies from bacteria impairments.
  • Loss of biodiversity due to competition from invasive species.
  • Relatively high percentage of agricultural and urban/residential land uses within the watershed.

    What's being done

    Intensive watershed monitoring (IWM) began in the spring of 2009 for the Mississippi River - St. Cloud watershed. An assessment report summarizing the biological monitoring and field data collected during the IWM process was completed in 2012. A watershed-wide assessment report of selected lakes was completed in September 2012. Project partners are currently working on finalizing the draft Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) and associated TMDL report for this watershed. Drafts of these reports are scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2014. Once these draft reports are complete, these documents will be then put on Public Notice for review and comment. Ongoing Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) projects within the watershed (e.g. Upper Mississippi River Bacteria (UMRB) TMDL) are continuing in accordance with their existing specific project work plans. The Elk River Watershed TMDL was completed in June 2012 and is now in the implementation phase of the project. The UMRB TMDL is scheduled to go on Public Notice in April 2014.

    Large river monitoring

    The MPCA began monitoring large rivers in 2013, starting with the Mississippi River from its headwaters to the St. Anthony Falls. For more information about the river monitoring effort, visit 5-year water testing starts with the Mississippi.

    MPCA's watershed approach

    Since 2007, the MPCA and its partners have begun implementing a 10-year rotation for watershed restoration plans to address Minnesota's waters at the major watershed level. Find out more about MPCA's watershed approach.

    [+] See large map

    Watershed news

    Stressor ID report summary

    PDF Document Mississippi River - St. Cloud Watershed Stressor Identification Report - Summary (wq-iw8-46ob)

    Monitoring report available

    In 2009, the MPCA began an intensive watershed monitoring effort of the Mississippi River (St. Cloud) Watershed’s surface waters. Fifty-two sites were sampled for biology at the outlet of variable sized sub-watersheds within the watershed. PDF Document Mississippi River - St. Cloud Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Report (wq-ws3-07010203b)

    Watershed project launch video available

    • HTML Content Mississippi River - St. Cloud Watershed project launch video External Link
      In 2011, the MPCA and its partners had an open house event to launch the Mississippi River - St. Cloud Watershed Project. Hear what living, working, and playing in this area means to some of the partners involved in this project, and enjoy nature's beauty throughout the watershed.

    Stay connected

    Check out Sherburne SWCD's video for the 2013 Mississippi River - St. Cloud open house. Watch video.

    The Clearwater River Watershed District was formed 37 years ago and still works to improve water quality in the district. Learn more at

    The Elk River Watershed Association was formed in 1994 coordinate restoration efforts within the Elk River Watershed: Learn More at: http://www.elkriverwatershed.or

    Updates about the Mississippi - St. Cloud Watershed Project are available in the April issue of the Watershed Informant newsletter.

    Check out the Mississippi River - St. Cloud Watershed Projects facebook page for news and events.


    Restoration and protection

    The restoration and protection process

    The MPCA and partner organizations evaluate water conditions, establish improvement goals and priorities, and take actions designed to restore or protect water quality on a 10-year cycle.


      Monitoring and assessment

    Projects in this watershed to test water quality conditions and determine whether our lakes, rivers, and wetlands are meeting state water quality standards. [More info]

    Project NameStatus
    Clearwater River Annual WQ Monitoring Program
    Lake Orono Volunteer Monitoring
    Minnesota Waters Citizen Monitoring
    Mississippi River St Cloud Intensive Water Chem
    Mississippi River-Saint Cloud Watershed Project
    Plum Creek Neighborhood Network
    Sherburne County Lake Assessment Program
    Stearns County Lake & Stream Monitoring Program
    Upper Mississippi R Information Access Initiative
    Upper Mississippi River Basin GenSen Modeling
    Wright County Citizens Lake Monitoring

    Lakes and stream segments with condition and monitoring information
    Lakes and streams are divided into "assessment units" for monitoring.

    Impairments in this watershed listed by lake or stream segment
    Generally, a waterbody has an impairment when it exceeds a particular pollutant standard.


      Strategy development projects

    Projects in this watershed that establish federal- or state-required plans for restoring water quality for impaired waters, or protecting high-quality waters. [More info]

    Project NameStatus
    Mercury Pollutant Reduction Plan
    Mississippi River - Saint Cloud Major Watershed WRAP Strategy
    Clearwater River & Lake Louisa TMDL
    Upper Mississippi River Bacteria TMDL
    Clearwater River (Upper Miss) 5 Lks Nutrient TMDL
    Elk River Watershed TMDL
    Clearwater River (Upper Miss) Low Oxygen TMDL


      Implementation activities

    Projects in this watershed to put water restoration or protection measures in place, ranging from best management practices to reduce runoff from fields or streets, to fixes to wastewater treatment facilities, to education activities for citizens and landowners. Implementation projects are supported by local, state and federal government sources, including Minnesota's new Clean Water Fund.

    Our partners in the watershed are continually involved in these kinds of activities. See Contacts tab.

    Project NameStatus
    Clearwater River WSD Kingston Wetland Feasibility
    Elk River Watershed Lakes Phosphorus Reduction
    Lake McCarrons Subwatershed BMP Project
    Mississippi River-Saint Cloud Watershed Project
    Mississippi River-Saint Cloud Watershed Project
    Mississippi River-Saint Cloud Watershed Project
    Pleasant Lake Stormwater Quality Improvements
    Sauk River Major Watershed
    Stearns County Manure Basin Abandonment
    Targeted Fertilizer Application Reduction Project
    Upper Mississippi River Source Water Protection


    Water data tools

    Search for your lake or stream's assessment data
    See information about your local lake or stream.


    DNR Lake Finder
    Find information about 4500+ lakes, rivers, and streams


    legacy-amedment-logoThis work is supported by the Clean Water Legacy fund.



    Phil Votruba, State Program Administrator Principal

    Brainerd Office

    Elk River Watershed Association

    763-241-1170, ext. 3

    Clearwater River Watershed District


    Stearns Soil & Water Conservation District

    320-251-7800, ext. 3

    Wright County Soil & Water Conservation District

    763-682.1970 or 763-682-1933, ext. 3

    Stearns County Environmental Services


    Sherburne County Planning and Zoning Administration



    Watershed Map

    Many of Minnesota’s lakes and streams do not currently meet water-quality standards because of pollution such as excess sediment or nutrients, bacteria or mercury. These waters are considered “impaired.” For more information, visit the impaired waters page.

    The toggles show impaired waters and monitoring stations. Click on a site for more information.

    Impairments in this watershed, listed by lake or stream segment
    Generally, a waterbody has an impairment when it exceeds a particular pollutant standard.


    Last modified on May 19, 2015 10:20

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