MPCA study shows more than 80% of the Minnesota River Headwaters Watershed fails to meet water quality standards

Contact: Hannah Sabroski, 651-757-2178

New draft reports released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) find that the majority of monitored stream sections and lakes in the Minnesota River Headwaters Watershed are not meeting water quality standards designed to support recreation and protect fish and aquatic bugs. The Minnesota River flows into the Mississippi River, so the restoration of its headwaters watershed is necessary for the health of both Minnesota and downstream waters, including the Gulf of Mexico.

Local and state government, landowners, and agricultural partners have long been working to restore water quality in the watershed, which runs along Minnesota’s central-western border and extends into North and South Dakota. The reports call for continued restoration to improve impairments in the watershed.

Key takeaways from the studies:

  • Big Stone Lake, a popular walleye and northern pike fishing destination, fully supports fish communities.
  • Twenty-two of 25 assessed stream segments are not supporting aquatic life and/or recreation.
  • Lac qui Parle Lake now does not meet standards meant to protect fish and other aquatic life.

The first report, a total maximum daily load (TMDL) report, establishes how much of an individual pollutant a body of water can contain while still meeting water-quality standards, as well as the reductions needed to allow it to meet standards. The second report, a watershed restoration and protection strategies (WRAPS) report, recommends strategies for restoring polluted waters and protecting healthy ones. These reports are part of the MPCA’s efforts to assess the health of Minnesota’s 80 major watersheds, and provide the scientific basis for restoring and protecting them. Each watershed will also have an approved local water management plan by 2025.

These reports are released as the MPCA and other government partners are set to host the third annual Ag-Urban Forum on Water Quality. The event brings together municipal employees, producers, tribal leaders, commodity groups, watershed professionals, advocacy groups, and others to identify ways to improve the Minnesota River Basin through partnerships and public-private investments. The virtual event is scheduled for 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., Tuesday, January 18, and is open to the public. Register here for the event.

The WRAPS report calls for civic engagement and strong partnerships that extend beyond Minnesota. Numerous technical stakeholder groups are already involved in mutually beneficial restoration efforts. Proposed solutions include increasing diversity in cropping systems/tillage, better nutrient and manure management, and improved hydrology.

The public is invited to review and provide feedback on the draft reports, which are available on the MPCA’s Minnesota River Headwaters page. Submit comments to or request information from Katherine Pekarek-Scott (507-476-4284), MPCA, 504 Fairgrounds Rd., Ste. 200, Marshall, MN, 56258 by 4:30 p.m. on February 9, 2022.