Improving water quality in rivers and streams

In addition to the MPCA’s ongoing water quality monitoring, projects are underway in 53 of Minnesota’s 80 watersheds to improve river and stream water quality. The tactics for improvement include conservation practices and restoration projects — for example:

Stream bank stabilization

St. Michael’s project to shore up the eroding banks of the Crow River within the city made use of a technique called toe-wood stream bank stabilization. Logs and downed trees with their roots still attached were buried along the outside bend of the river and covered with soil and plantings. The approach is designed to work with the river’s flow to prevent erosion and provide habitat for aquatic organisms.


Before: Crow River, Fall 2011


After: Crow River, Spring 2013



Sediment control basins

Nine sediment control basins were installed in West Otter Tail County in 2012 to help prevent erosion and keep sediment from running into the south branch of the Buffalo River. Sediment control basins are small embankments built across a minor watercourse or area of water flow in a sloped field. They prevent the watercourse from becoming a gulley and reduce runoff from the field. The basins were installed with help from a Clean Water Fund grant to the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District. As part of the same grant, 17 sediment control projects were installed in Wilkin County. The watershed district administrator estimates that the projects keep 358 tons of soil and 400 pounds of phosphorus out of the Buffalo River each year.

Credit River restoration

The Credit River in Scott County had a problem with turbidity — a lack of water clarity caused by runoff and erosion — which made it hard for fish and other organisms to feed and breathe in the water. Local governments, businesses, and watershed organizations took on a variety of restoration efforts to address the problem. Target employees installed a rain garden to capture runoff from a nearby parking lot. Residents planted vegetation along stream banks to prevent erosion. As a result of these and other projects, the river now meets water quality standards.

Nitrogen and phosphorus: improving water quality in the Mississippi

The information presented here represents the major sources contributing to the nutrient problem (phosphorus and nitrogen) in the Mississippi River. The graphics depict how the sources contributed in the past, in the present and will contribute in the future.

It’s important to note we are setting long term goals, however we have also set short term milestones that allow us to track our progress toward meeting the goals. We know we don’t have all of the pieces to this puzzle to meet the reduction goals yet. For that reason we have created a statewide Nutrient Reduction Strategy that lays out the plan to get there. To learn more, visit the Nutrient Reduction Strategy webpage.


Amounts measured in metric tons. These numbers are the total annual nitrogen and phosphorus loads for the Mississippi River at the Minnesota border adjusted for average river flow.