MPCA reports: Protecting good water quality a priority for Rapid River Watershed

Contact: Dan Olson, 218-846-8108

Two new reports by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) show water quality in the Rapid River Watershed near Baudette in far north-central Minnesota is generally good. Local water management efforts are focused on protection strategies, such as maintaining forestland conservation, timber harvesting best management practices, and restoring heavily ditched wetlands.

The MPCA and local partners found that the vast majority of streams in the watersheds meet water quality standards designed to protect fish and other aquatic life, and recreation. There are no lakes in the watershed, but many wetlands.

The MPCA assessed the health of fish and bugs in 12 stream sections and only one segment, the Lower Rapid River in the northeastern portion of the watershed, does not support aquatic life. The issue is excess sediment, soil, and other particles in the water.

The MPCA’s total maximum daily load (TMDL) study establishes the amount of sediment the impaired stream can accept and still meet water quality standards, and the amount of reduction needed to meet the standard. The TMDL study is required by the federal Clean Water Act.

The second report, a watershed restoration and protection strategy (WRAPS) report, is required by the state Clean Water Land and Legacy Act and uses TMDL reports, monitoring results, and other information to develop strategies for restoring polluted waters and protecting healthy ones. Local partners will use this information to develop implementation plans and set priorities for projects.

Many of the water quality challenges in the watershed can be linked back to a large-scale ditching campaign in the early 20th century to create agricultural land. The ditches failed to create usable farmland and fundamentally altered the hydrology of streams, creating less favorable conditions for fish and insects. The ditching causes higher flows during spring runoff and summer rain events in the watershed’s streams, and often low-flow conditions at other times. The more frequent and intense rain events and drought conditions caused by climate change amplify these conditions.

The generally good water quality in the Rapid River Watershed is attributable to the forestlands and wetlands that cover more than 90 percent of the landscape. They absorb and filter precipitation, and prevent runoff that carries pollutants into lakes and streams.

With relatively few water quality problems in the watershed, the WRAPS report is focused on protection strategies that include maintaining forestland and wetland conservation efforts. Additional protection strategies include:

  • Controlling erosion during and after timber harvesting
  • Managing the beaver population and beaver dams, which flooded acres of timber along the river
  • Providing financial incentive to commercial wild rice growers to improve the quality of water discharged from rice paddies
  • Building water and sediment control basins to trap water, sediment, and sediment-borne phosphorus in runoff
  • Restoring the wetlands and peatlands that have been ditched

The Rapid River Watershed feeds the Rainy River, which was the focus of an earlier report by the MPCA that found the river has made a remarkable recovery, thanks to significant reductions in pollutants from industries and wastewater treatment plants.

The MPCA is seeking public feedback on these two watershed reports, including suggestions for additional or revised protection and restoration strategies as they relate to aquatic life and aquatic recreation. The draft reports are available on the MPCA’s Rapid River Watershed web page. Submit comments to or request information from Cary Hernandez (218-846-8124, 800-657-3864), MPCA, 714 Lake Ave, Ste 220, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501 by 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 12, 2022.

Comments must include a statement of your 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.