Otter Tail River Watershed reports highlight water quality issues and efforts by local partners to correct, prevent problems

Contact: Dan Olson, 218-846-8108

Among numerous impaired waters in the Red River Basin, the Otter Tail River Watershed stands out for its generally good water quality, according to new draft reports by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). A majority of its streams and lakes support fish and aquatic insect communities, and recreation. While phosphorus and sediment levels are consistently high in the Red River and in other watersheds in the Red River Basin, the Otter Tail River Watershed has lower pollutant levels due to geography, significant amounts of undeveloped land, and actions taken by landowners and local partners.

Parts of some streams in the watershed do not meet water quality standards and have fish and insect communities that are stressed by insufficient physical habitat, barriers such as dams, and elevated levels of suspended sediment. Unstable stream flows (too much flow during spring runoff and summer rain events, and too little at other times) are contributing to habitat loss, increased erosion and suspended sediment, and fluctuations in water temperature and dissolved oxygen.

Eight stream reaches in the watershed have elevated levels of E. coli bacteria, likely from bird, human, cattle, and wildlife waste. Excess phosphorus in some lakes is fueling algae blooms, reducing water clarity, and affecting recreation.

More than 3,500 projects in the watershed between 2004 and 2019 are helping to improve and protect water quality. These include agricultural and cropland practices, stream bank and shoreline restorations, septic system improvements, urban stormwater control practices, and more. The projects are summarized on the MPCA’s Healthier Watersheds webpage with information provided by local watershed partners.

The projects have the added benefit of making the watershed more resilient in the face of the more frequent and intense storms caused by climate change. These more intense storms can send pollutant-laden runoff into lakes and streams. Many of the projects implemented in the watershed help slow the water’s movement and retain it longer on the land, lessen the threat of flooding, and filter out pollutants.

Some existing dams and culverts have been modified to allow fish passage and other projects are planned, including the dam on the Pelican River in Pelican Rapids. The existing park and well-known “World’s Largest Pelican,” Pelican Pete, will be preserved and enhanced.

The first report, known as a total maximum daily load (TMDL), establishes the amount of each pollutant that the impaired bodies of water can accept and still meet water quality standards. TMDLs are required by the federal Clean Water Act.

The second report, a Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS), is required by the state Clean Water Legacy Act and uses the TMDL report, monitoring results, and other information to recommend strategies for restoring polluted waters and protecting healthy ones.

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, tribal, regional, and even international partners to restore and protect lakes and streams.

The draft reports are available on the MPCA’s Otter Tail River Watershed webpage. Submit comments to or request information from Scott Schroeder (218-846-8134, 800-657-3864), MPCA, 714 Lake Ave. Ste. 220, Detroit Lakes MN, 56501, by 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

Written comments must include a statement of the respondent’s 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.

A virtual public information meeting will be held via Webex on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 from 1-2 p.m. Staff will provide summaries of the reports and explain how to submit comments or ask questions. Visit the Otter Tail River Watershed webpage for more information and options for joining the meeting