MPCA reports: Water quality in the Clearwater River Watershed improves because of strong local partnerships

Contact: Dan Olson, 218-846-8108

According to two new Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reports (MPCA), many of the waters in the Clearwater River Watershed meet the state’s fishable and swimmable goals. This is a result of local water management agencies and landowners working together to improve water quality across the watershed.

While the watershed has seen improvements in water quality, the reports describe excess sediment and degraded habitat for fish and aquatic insects, and 15 stream segments with recreational safety concerns due to high levels of E. coli bacteria. Barriers to fish passage such as improperly installed or sized culverts are also causing impairments to aquatic communities. Too many nutrients are causing algal blooms in lakes.

Many water quality issues are linked to artificial drainage and stream alterations. These human-made changes have led to inconsistent stream flows — high flows during spring runoff and summer rains, and low flows in much of the rest of the year — which damage aquatic habitat and contribute to erosion. Climate change is bringing more frequent and intense storms that also adds to runoff.  

The Clearwater River Watershed falls within the Red Lake Watershed District (RLWD), a primary author of both reports. The RLWD and its partners have completed many projects and assisted in implementing strategies to improve or protect water quality for several years. For example, many wild rice farmers have adopted a different approach to draining wild rice paddies, changing from surface drainage to main-line tile drainage to reduce sediment in drainage water after harvest. Protection strategies for a trout stream reach of the upper Clearwater River include repairing damaged riparian areas to keep the stream healthy. Trout streams are not common in the Red River Basin and this reach is at risk for becoming impaired by E. coli.

The Clearwater River Watershed total maximum daily load (TMDL) and watershed restoration and protection strategy (WRAPS) reports are now open for public review and comment. A TMDL report determines the levels of pollutants that water bodies can receive and still meet water-quality standards. WRAPS reports recommend steps for restoring waters that don’t meet standards and protecting waters that are in good condition.

Data gathered from the Clearwater River Watershed reflect similar findings recorded in ten years’ worth of in-depth studies conducted throughout the broader Red River Basin. The studies are part of the MPCA’s approach to gauging the health of Minnesota’s 80 major watersheds and will inform projects by local, regional, and even international partners to restore and protect lakes and streams.

The draft reports are available on the MPCA’s web site and open for public comment until 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Submit comments to or request information from Denise Oakes (218-846-8119), MPCA, 714 Lake Ave. Ste. 220, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501.

Written comments must include a statement of the respondent’s interest in the report, and the action requested of the MPCA, including specific references to sections of the draft document(s) that should be changed, and the reasons for making those changes.