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Upper/Lower Red Lake Watershed


Watershed at a glance

The Upper/Lower Red Lake watershed covers 1,263,678 acres. Located in Minnesota’s Northern Wetlands and Northern Lakes and Forest Ecoregions and a portion of the Red River Valley Ecoregion, this watershed is home to Upper and Lower Red Lakes, the two largest bodies of water within the state. The watershed is by both flow volume and surface area the largest drainage basin of the Red River. Its major tributaries are the Red Lake River and Grand Marais Creek, which empty directly into the Red River, and the tributaries of the Red Lake River (the Thief, Clearwater, Hill, Lost, and Poplar Rivers).

Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) 09020302 [More Info]

Intensive monitoring start year 2012 [More Info]

Major lakesMajor rivers and streams

Upper and Lower Red Lakes, Blackduck, Puposky

Mud, Blackduck, Battle


Most lands within this watershed are not highly erodible, and are well to moderately well-suited to agricultural uses. Predominate land use/land cover is wetlands (45%), followed by open water (24%), forest (20%), and agriculture (12%). Pasture/hay/grassland makes up 67% of cropland, row crops make up approximately 15% of crop lands, and small grains and grasslands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) make up the majority of the balance.

While large areas of wetlands exist to the northwest, south and east of the open water of the Red Lakes, there are areas of extensive drainage northeast of Upper Red Lake facilitating agricultural land use. There are 445 farms in the subbasin. About 83 percent of the farms are less than 500 acres in size. Fifty eight of the farms are between 500 and 1000 acres (13%) and the remainder are larger than 1000 acres in size. Fifty two percent of the farm operators are full time producers and do not rely on off-farm income. The main crops grown are small grains, soybeans, and forage crops. The pasture land is used primarily for beef and dairy. Resource concerns include improved drainage for crop production, grazing management of forest and grassland, water/wind erosion and water quality impacts. Additional resource concerns include management of excessive wetness, short growing season, and pasture management.

    What's being done

    Watershed-wide planning efforts are being led by the Red Lake Band Department of Natural Resources.

    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

    Swimmable, fishable, fixable?

    New report explains what we’ve learned so far about Minnesota waters.

    Nutrient Planning Portal

    The Minnesota nutrient planning portal is designed to communicate the extensive research concerning the Nutrient Reduction Strategy and provide resources to accomplish reductions in nutrients across Minnesota.

    Watershed approach videos

    These videos offer a great overview of our watershed approach to protecting and restoring our lakes, rivers, and wetlands.


    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
    Beltrami Cty High Priority WQ Monitoring
    Clearwater County Local Water Monitoring (Lakes)
    Red Lake Watershed District Monitoring
    Red River Basin Condition Monitoring Network
    Red River Basin River Watch Project
    Red River Basin Stream Monitoring & Assessment
    Red River Basin Stressor ID
    Red River Real Time Monitoring - Fargo
    Red River Watershed Management Board
    Upper/Lower Red Lake Major Watershed

    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
    Upper/Lower Red Lake Major Watershed WRAP Strategy


      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.

    Restoration and protection data for this watershed is not currently available.


    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.



    Denise Oakes, P.G., Environmental Specialist 3

    Detroit Lakes Office


    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 March 19, 2014 15:41

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