Studies: Good news, bad news for Rum River watershed

Contact: Steve Mikkelson, 218-316-3887

A pair of studies are good news, bad news for the Rum River watershed in northern Minnesota that starts at Lake Mille Lacs. While most of the waters studied here are in good shape and need protection, some waters are in trouble. Six streams have high bacteria or low dissolved oxygen levels, meaning they may not be fishable and swimmable at times. Ten lakes, mostly in the southern half of the watershed, have high levels of phosphorus that cause algal blooms.

Also, data going back several years show that many pollutants in the river have decreased significantly, probably due to wastewater treatment improvements. However, nitrogen and chloride levels have increased, though levels still meet standards. Nitrogen can make water unsafe for drinking for humans and can be toxic to fish. Chloride is also toxic to fish and other aquatic life. In addition, the river’s nutrient levels are close to being high enough to fail the water quality standard.

Water bodies in the northern part of the watershed, which is mostly forests and wetlands, are generally in great shape. As the Rum River flows south, the land is more developed and pollutant levels increase. This increase in pollutants with increase in development is a trend documented in the surrounding Upper Mississippi River basin.

The two reports by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and local partners include:

  • The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study, which establishes the amount of each pollutant that a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards, and allocates reductions to different sources of pollutants.
  • The Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS), which identifies strategies for restoring and protecting water quality in the watershed.

The agency is seeking comments from the public on both reports.

Some of the recommended strategies for this watershed include protecting existing forestland, creating buffers in existing agricultural and developed areas, restoring wetlands that have been altered, discouraging additional drainage, promoting agricultural practices to reduce livestock waste in lakes and streams, and ensuring septic systems are working as intended throughout the watershed.

The Rum River Watershed stretches from Lake Mille Lacs in the north to the confluence with the Mississippi River in the city of Anoka.  The watershed covers large portions of Aitkin, Mille Lacs, Isanti, and Anoka counties and covers smaller areas of Crow Wing, Morrison, Benton, Kanabec, Chisago, and Sherburne counties as well as portions of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Tribal land.

The reports are available on the MPCA’s Rum River watershed webpage, or at the MPCA’s St. Paul office, at 520 Lafayette Road North. The MPCA encourages those interested in the Rum River watershed to review and provide feedback on the reports. Comments may be submitted to Bonnie Finnerty, MPCA, 7678 College Road, Baxter, MN, 56425, or by email to by 4:30 p.m. on May 31. For more information, contact Finnerty at 218-316-3897, or toll-free at 800-657-3864.

Written comments must indicate whether they pertain to the Rum River Watershed TMDL or WRAPS report. They should clearly state the action you wish the MPCA to take, including references to sections of the report that you believe should be changed; and provide specific reasons supporting your position.