New report: Upper Mississippi River in good condition overall, suffers from excess sediment

Contact: Stephen Mikkelson 218-316-3887

New report: Upper Mississippi River in good condition overall, suffers from excess sediment

According to a new draft report released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the Upper Mississippi River from near Grand Rapids to Brainerd is in good condition overall, but has excess sediment in the water in some areas. The report specifically addresses sediment (also known as total suspended solids or TSS) in three stretches of the Upper Mississippi River:

  • The Swan River to the Willow River
  • The Willow River to the Pine River
  • The Pine River to the Crow Wing River

The report, known as a total maximum daily load (TMDL), establishes the amount of a given pollutant that a water body can accept and still meet water quality standards. According to the report, the primary sources of sediment are unregulated, such as riverbed and riverbank erosion of the finely grained, easily erodible Glacial Lake Aitkin/Upham clay deposits. In addition, many watercourses in the area have been altered, including ditches carved out of peatlands. Altered watercourses often suffer from bank erosion and contribute to increased sediment and water flow in downstream waters. 

Some land uses on or near streambanks in the area contribute to greater soil erosion, such as livestock moving around or in the water, the planting of shallow-rooted plants, and activities that expose the soil. Regulated wastewater and stormwater sources contribute a small fraction of the total sediment to this part of the Upper Mississippi River.

This TMDL is a follow-up study stemming from the Upper Mississippi River Monitoring and Assessment Report, which identified TSS as a problem in these three stretches.

The TMDL report is part of the MPCA’s approach to gauging the health of Minnesota’s 80 major watersheds, each of which will have an approved comprehensive watershed management plan by 2025. After intensive water monitoring, the agency and partners evaluate biological conditions in lakes and streams. The MPCA places waters that fail to meet standards on the Impaired Waters List, and develops information and strategies to restore impaired waters and protect healthy ones.

The TMDL report will help guide activities by local, state, and federal partners working to reduce sediment in the river by:

  • Conserving land through easements and acquisition
  • Working with landowners to exclude livestock from direct access to riverbanks
  • Installing riparian buffers and filter strips along riverbanks
  • Adopting stormwater best management practices.

On Tuesday August 18, the public can learn more about this report and the watershed in an online public meeting. For the best experience, join us online before 2:30 p.m.:

  1. Go to www.webex.com
  2. Click “join” in the upper right-hand corner.
  3. Enter Meeting number (access code): 146 935 6110
  4. Enter Meeting password: vYVg92Bk5Au

Or join by phone at 1-415-655-0003. Enter the meeting number (access code): 146 935 6110. When asked for a participant ID, press #.

The draft report is available on the MPCA’s Mississippi River-Brainerd Watershed webpage. Submit comments to or request information from Bonnie Finnerty (218-316-3897, 800-657-3864), MPCA, 7678 College Road, Baxter, MN, 56425 by 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 16.

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