Marsh River Watershed reports highlight water quality issues; show where corrective actions might have greatest impact

Contact: Dan Olson, 218-846-8108

New draft reports released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) recommend widespread implementation of best management practices in the Marsh River Watershed to restore polluted bodies of water and protect healthy ones.

Water quality conditions in the watershed are generally poor and reflect a highly altered landscape. Nearly 70 percent of waterways have been converted to ditches and 88.2 percent of the watershed’s prairies and wetlands have been converted to cropland since the start of European settlement. Due to these and other conditions, the more frequent and intense storms caused by climate change are leading to larger volumes of faster moving — and more damaging — storm runoff. This has contributed to excessive levels of E. coli bacteria, elevated concentrations of sediment, low dissolved oxygen, and fewer fish and aquatic insects in the Marsh River, and reduced fish communities in County Ditch 11.

Aquatic wildlife is being stressed by conditions or structures, such as dams, that limit movement of fish and insects; unstable water flow, such as very high flows during spring runoff and little or no flow at other times; insufficient physical habitat; excess sediment in the water; and low dissolved oxygen. Fortunately, four bodies of water — sections of Judicial Ditch 51, County Ditch 45, Spring Creek, and County Ditch 66 — currently support healthy biological communities.

The first report, a compilation of total maximum daily load (TMDL) studies, establishes the amount of each pollutant that impaired waterbodies in the watershed can accept and still meet water quality standards, and the amount of reductions needed for current levels of pollution. TMDLs are required by the federal Clean Water Act and state Clean Water Legacy Act.

The second report, a watershed restoration and protection strategies (WRAPS) report, is required by the state Clean Water Legacy Act and uses the TMDL report, monitoring results, and other information to develop strategies for restoring polluted waters and protecting healthy ones.

The reports identify areas within the watershed where water protection best practices would have the best results and lead to the highest pollutant reductions. These practices include buffer strips along streams, conservation cover, cover crops, and limiting livestock access to waterways. With the vast majority of the watershed under private ownership, restoring water quality relies on landowners’ willingness to implement practices in the highest priority locations.

A few examples of management practices already being used in the watershed by local partners and landowners: 

  • Nutrient management on 14,421 acres
  • Cover crops on 7,771 acres
  • Restoration of three wetlands totaling 180 acres
  • Four grade stabilization structures
  • A water and sediment control basin

Learn about these and many more on MPCA’s Healthier watersheds webpage.

Data gathered from the Marsh River Watershed reflect findings in the broader Red River Basin over 10 years of in-depth WRAPS projects. The projects are part of the MPCA’s approach to gauging the health of Minnesota’s 80 major watersheds and aim to inform water restoration and protection activities by local, tribal, regional, and even international partners.

The draft reports are available on the MPCA’s Marsh River Watershed web page. Submit comments to or request information from Danielle Kvasager (218-846-8117, 800-657-3864), MPCA, 714 Lake Ave. Ste. 220, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501, by 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 12.

Written comments must include a statement of the respondent’s interest in the report(s), and the action you are requesting from the MPCA, including specific changes to sections of the draft report(s) and the reasons for making those changes.