MPCA logo

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Search, View and Navigation

Beta - Dynamic

MPCA e-Services

tinyURL : mvridd3 | ID : 2786Home   >   Water   >   Water types and programs   >   Watersheds

main content

St. Louis River Watershed


Photo (c) Tom Swanson

Watershed at a glance

The St. Louis River watershed, which covers 3,584 square miles, is located at the head of the Great Lakes and represents the extreme headwaters of the St. Lawrence River. The St. Louis River flows in a circuitous course for 195 miles from its recognized source at Seven Beaver Lake to Lake Superior at the Superior entry of the Duluth-Superior harbor. The watershed is located entirely within the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province of the National Ecological Classification System.

The St. Louis River watershed is highly fragmented by small, short tributaries, which are a result of the shallow gradient over a majority of the surface area. Two major tributaries drain a substantial portion of the watershed.

The Cloquet River flows approximately 100 miles from Cloquet Lake to its confluence with the St. Louis River downstream of Brookston, Minnesota. The Cloquet River drops an average of 3 feet per mile and contributes roughly one third of the St. Louis River’s flow at the point of entry.

The Whiteface River flows approximately 80 miles from its headwaters above Whiteface Reservoir to the point where it joins the St. Louis River six miles upstream of Floodwood, Minnesota. The Whiteface River drops an average of 5 feet per mile and contributes approximately one half of the St. Louis River’s flow at the point of entry.

Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) 04010201 [More Info]

Intensive monitoring start year 2009 [More Info]

Major lakesMajor rivers and streams

Whiteface Reservoir, Seven Beaver Lake, Big Lake, Esquagama Lake

St. Louis, Whiteface, Swan, Artichoke, West Two River, Embarrass


The St. Louis River drops 1,067 feet from its highest elevation of 1,669 feet at Seven Beaver Lake to 602 feet at Lake Superior; 83% of the river’s total drop occurs along 30% of its course; this is located within the upper section from Seven Beaver Lake to the Partridge River and from the city of Cloquet to the Fond du Lac Reservoir. Five hydroelectric power facilities utilize the steep gradient within the lower section of the river. Gradient within these sections ranges from 29.1 to 34.5 feet per mile. Gradient within the balance of the rivers course ranges from 0.6 to 1.8 feet per mile.

The average yearly flow of the St. Louis River at Scanlon is 2,284 cubic feet per second (cfs). Average yearly high and low flows are 14,617 and 465 cfs, respectively. The maximum flow of nearly 38,000 cfs was recorded in the spring of 1938.

The MPCA will address its work in the St. Louis River in two distinct segments. The Fond du Lac Dam, approximately 21 miles upstream of Lake Superior, will be the project's separation point. The decision to make two projects was driven by hydrologic variables in the portions of the river that are heavily influenced by Lake Superior’s effects.

Land ownership within the watershed is mixed and patterns are variable depending on location. Private land dominates the watershed’s lower section, below the confluence of the Cloquet River, and the upper section, along the base of the Giants Range. Tribal land, owned by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, is located primarily in the lower portion of the watershed. State and county government are the primary landowners in the Cloquet and Whiteface watersheds and the middle portion of the St. Louis watershed. The federal government is the main landowner of the headwaters region of all three major rivers within the watershed. The St. Louis River’s immediate riparian corridor of the mainstem has a high percentage of privately owned land.

    What's being done

    The St. Louis River watershed and its hydrology have been rigorously studied by multiple entities since the early 1900s. Intensive watershed monitoring (IWM) for the St. Louis River started in 2009.

    It is important to understand, for the purposes of MPCA-directed work, that the Cloquet River has been separated out of the larger St. Louis watershed and will be treated separately in the intensive watershed management beginning in 2015.

    The first step of the IWM effort was conducted during the 2009 and 2010 field seasons and included intensive St. Louis River watershed stream and lake monitoring to determine overall health of the water resources, identify impaired waters, and identify those waters in need of additional protection to prevent future impairments. Data from past and current local water monitoring are included in the process. Information on watershed characteristics, like land use, topography, soils and pollution sources are also gathered in this step.

    In 1987, concerns over environmental quality conditions prompted the designation of the lower St. Louis River as one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs). This includes the segment from Cloquet to Lake Superior. As a part of the AOC program, a tremendous amount of work is being accomplished on the lower St. Louis River and estuary by the MPCA Great Lakes Program. To learn more about the AOC work on the St, Louis River, visit Contaminated Sediment Studies in the St. Louis River Area of Concern or the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program St. Louis River web site.

    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.

    Monitoring and assessment reports

    [+] See large map

    Watershed news

    New monitoring report available

    The St. Louis River watershed is one of the largest watersheds in northern Minnesota and the largest contributing watershed to Lake Superior. In 2009, the MPCA began an intensive watershed monitoring effort of the St. Louis River watershed’s surface waters. PDF Document St. Louis Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Report (wq-ws3-04010201b)

    EPA, MPCA to fund $3.29 million to restore St. Louis River

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the MPCA recently announced more than $3 million in funding to help restore the St. Louis River Area of Concern. The EPA will provide $2.19 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds and the MPCA will provide an additional $1.1 million through the Minnesota Clean Water Fund.

    The funding will go toward cleanup work within the St. Louis River Area of Concern, one of 38 such areas within the Great Lakes region. The $3 million will be used to assess cleanup options at three sites; develop engineering plans for the restoration of seven sites; evaluate the potential use of dredged river sediment for use in local habitat restoration projects and conduct ecosystem monitoring activities.


    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
    Duluth Area Streams
    Duluth Area Streams
    East Swan River Watershed Protection Strat.
    Effects of Landscape Composition and Structure Str
    HSPF Modeling St. Louis, Cloquet, Nemadji Wtrshds
    Hibbing Community College E Swan River WQ
    Itasca County Watershed Assessment
    Lake Superior Near Shore Monitoring
    Polymet Mining North Met
    Saint Louis River River Watch Program
    St Louis River Citizens River Watch
    St Louis River Stressor Identification
    St. Louis River Tributaries Assessment
    Three Lakes Development Association Found Data
    WQ Monitoring of North Shore Superior Streams

    Monitoring and assessment reports and data

    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
    Saint Louis River Major Watershed WRAP Strategy
    Miller Creek TMDL (Lake Superior Basin)


      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
    Miller Creek Watershed Imprementation Continuation
    Nemadji River Basin Project


    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.



    Mike Kennedy, Environmental Specialist 3

    Duluth Office

    Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Water Projects Coordinator

    Fond du Lac Environmental Program
    1720 Big Lake Road
    Cloquet, MN 55720

    St. Louis River Alliance

    394 S. Lake Ave.
    Duluth, MN 55801

    For questions specific to the Duluth urban area, please contact:

    Brian Fredrickson, Principal Planner
    Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
    525 Lake Ave S., Ste. 400
    Duluth, Minnesota



    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 05, 2015 11:20

    additional content