Red River Basin waterways, damaged by land alterations and climate change, need restoring

Contact: Dan Olson, 218-846-8108

Cloudy water caused by too much sediment. Unsafe swimming conditions due to high bacteria levels. Algae growth from nutrients that cut off oxygen to fish and bugs. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has documented these common water-quality problems throughout the Red River Basin in ten years’ worth of in-depth studies. Reports on two specific watersheds — the Roseau River and the Snake-Middle Rivers watershed — are now open for public review and comment. They are among the last in a series of reports detailing the agency’s comprehensive assessment of the broader Red River Basin.

The studies are part of the MPCA’s approach to gauging the health of Minnesota’s 80 major watersheds. After intensive water monitoring, the agency and partners evaluate biological conditions in lakes and streams. Waters that fail to meet standards are placed on the Impaired Waters List, and the agency develops information and strategies that are used to restore impaired waters and protect healthy ones.

Assessment of 12 watersheds in the Red River Basin are now complete and the remaining five will be done by 2021, identifying impaired waters and sources of pollution, determining pollutant reductions needed to restore waters to standards, and developing strategies for protection as well as restoration.

The process involves completing total maximum daily load (TMDL) and watershed restoration and protection strategy (WRAPS) reports. 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.

The Roseau River Watershed reports describe excess sediment and degraded habitat in several stream stretches in the watershed, and one area with high levels of E. coli bacteria.

The Snake-Middle Rivers Watershed reports also list 16 stream stretches where there are fewer fish and aquatic insects — and fewer species — than expected. Three areas failed to meet standards for E. coli bacteria, and five others don’t meet standards for turbidity, which is cloudiness from excess sediment. 

Many of the water-quality issues in the Roseau River and Snake-Middle Rivers watersheds are linked to artificial drainage and stream alterations. These man-made changes have lead 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 worsen runoff.  

Reports are expected over the next several months for the Clearwater, Marsh, Wild Rice, Upper and Lower Red Lakes, and Ottertail watersheds.

The draft Snake-Middle Rivers and Roseau River watersheds reports are available on the MPCA’s web site. The reports are open for public comment until 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 21.

Submit comments to or request information from:  

  • Snake-Middle Rivers WatershedDanielle Kvasager (218-846-8117), MPCA, 714 Lake Ave. Ste. 220, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501
  • Roseau River WatershedCary Hernandez (218-846-8124), 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.

The MPCA may revise the reports based on comments received before sending the reports to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.