Comments invited on report restoring Whitewater River, other tributaries to Mississippi at Winona

Contact: Cathy Rofshus, 507-206-2608

Rochester, Minn. — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) invites comments on restoration and protection strategies for the Mississippi River-Winona watershed, including the Whitewater River in southeastern Minnesota. The report is open for comment through Aug. 31.

The Whitewater River and other streams in this watershed all flow into the Mississippi River near Winona. The watershed covers 419,200 acres in Wabasha, Winona and Olmsted counties. Winona, population 27,952, is the watershed’s largest city. The majority of land in the watershed is used for farming. 

An abundance of water, beautiful scenery, and widespread public areas make this watershed a popular destination for trout fishing, paddling, hiking, hunting and other outdoor recreation. Whitewater State Park draws about 300,000 visitors annually.

This area of Minnesota is vulnerable to pollution because of its karst landscape. In karst, only a thin layer of soil covers the porous bedrock underneath and allows pollutants on the land to easily reach groundwater used for drinking. In a karst landscape, where caves and sinkholes are common, streams and groundwater mix as water moves through the bedrock.

The main issues for restoring the Whitewater River and other tributaries to the Mississippi in this watershed include:

  • Reducing nitrate levels that can be harmful to human and environmental health via fertilizer applications and losses from cropland;
  • Reducing sediment loss from upland areas and stabilizing flood plains, terraces and streambanks, especially on the main branch of the Whitewater River;  
  • Determining why bacteria concentrations remain high in many streams despite numerous efforts at reduction; and
  • Addressing physical habitat issues that are hurting fish and other aquatic life.

This Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies report summarizes all water quality work in the watershed since intensive monitoring in 2010. It culminates in a table of implementation strategies to help restore areas where pollutants violate standards and help protect those areas meeting standards.

Many areas in this watershed provide high-quality habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and need protection. Strategies that would both help protect and restore streams throughout the watershed include planting cover crops, installing buffers along streams, installing grassed waterways, using contour farming, implementing water and sediment storage, and managing crop residue.

Many groups are participating in restoration and protection efforts, including Winona County, the Winona Soil and Water Conservation District, the newly formed citizen group Healthy Lake Winona, cities in the watershed, and several state and local organizations. Individuals are always encouraged to get involved. 

This report is part of a statewide effort to holistically gauge the health of streams and lakes, and develop strategies to restore or protect their water quality.

For more information on Mississippi River-Winona report or to submit written comments, contact Shaina Keseley, MPCA project manager (email, phone 507-206-2622). The report is also available on the agency's Mississippi River-Winona watershed webpage.

Comments, which must be in writing, are due by 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 31. The comments must include a statement of your interest in the report, and the action you wish the MPCA to take, including specific references to sections of the draft report you believe should be changed and the reasons for making those changes.