Mississippi River-Grand Rapids Watershed has “very good” water quality

Contact: Forrest Peterson, 320-979-1776

According to new draft reports released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the Mississippi River – Grand Rapids Watershed (MRGRW) has very good overall water quality, but forest protection is critical to preserving it. The report found that six of the 73 assessed streams in had high levels of bacteria, and 17 streams do not meet standards for aquatic life – fish and bugs.

In addition, only 11 of the 216 assessed lakes do not meet aquatic recreation standards for swimming and fishing. Fish populations in one of 49 assessed lakes did not meet the expected standards.

“This watershed is an important source of drinking water for millions of people downstream, said Katrina Kessler, MPCA’s assistant commissioner of water. “This region has an abundance of beautiful lakes that make it an important recreational destination.”

The MPCA identified several stressors to aquatic life in the watershed, including increased erosion, degradation of habitat by sedimentation and historical ditching, which causes streams to suffer from low levels of dissolved oxygen. The most likely causes of bacteria impairments in the MRGRW are wildlife and livestock, and failing septic systems.

Best management practices include improved septic system maintenance, and addressing shoreline erosion and stormwater runoff. Key watershed-wide strategies that will improve the quality of impaired and unimpaired lakes and streams include protecting forested lands, decommissioning non-functioning ditches, and updating and enforcing shoreland ordinances. Protecting forested lands provides significant benefits to water quality.

The MPCA is seeking public comments through Aug. 14, 2019, about the protection and restoration strategies described in the water quality reports.  The first report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, establishes the amount of each pollutant that a water body can accept and still meet water quality standards. The MRGRW TMDL study addressed phosphorus and bacteria impairments in seven lakes and six streams.

The second report, a Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS), is required by the state Clean Water Legacy Act and uses the TMDL, monitoring results, and other information to develop strategies for addressing all pollution sources in the watershed. The objective of the WRAPS process is to develop strategies that not only restore impaired waters but also protect the unimpaired waters from degradation. The WRAPS report showed that the MRGRW is quite healthy and protection strategies will help keep it that way.

The draft reports are available on the MPCA’s Mississippi River-Grand Rapids Watershed webpage, or at the St. Paul MPCA office, 520 Lafayette Road North. Comments must be submitted to Anna Bosch, MPCA, 7678 College Road, Baxter, MN, 56425, or by email to, anna.bosch@state.mn.us by 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 14. For more information, contact Bosch at 218-316-3929, or toll-free at 800-657-3864.

Written comments must include a statement of the respondent’s interest in the report, and the requested action required by the MPCA, including specific changes to sections of the draft report and the reasons for making those changes.

The MRGRW drains more than 1.3 million acres of land from the Laurentian Continental divide to the Mississippi River near Palisade. It contains almost 2,000 miles of streams and 625 lakes greater than 10 acres. It includes the cities of Grand Rapids, Nashwauk, Coleraine, Hill City, McGregor, Remer and Cromwell. It is also home to unique plant and animal species such as wild rice and trout, along with a wealth of healthy forests.

More information on all of Minnesota’s 80 major watersheds is available on the MPCA’s Watershed webpages.