The Red River of the North: Evaluating its health

In 2018, the MPCA completed Minnesota's first comprehensive study of water quality and fish and insect communities in the Red River of the North from its headwaters near Breckenridge to the Canadian border. The study led to these primary conclusions:

  • In places there is too much sediment to meet the standards designed to protect fish and other aquatic life. It makes it harder for many fish to find food, detect predators and reproduce in cloudy water. Some stretches are impaired for swimming due to high bacteria levels. Phosphorous levels are impacting downstream waters and nitrogen levels are increasing. Generally speaking, fish and aquatic insect communities are doing reasonably well, but decline as you go downstream.
  • Solutions include: Implementing additional practices and projects that help reduce peak flows during spring runoff and heavy rains, and increase base flows during dry periods. Landowners, watershed districts and others having been working toward these goals but more is needed to keep our farmlands highly productive while at the same time improving and protecting water quality.


The Red River of the North: Evaluating its health

Read the study report
Map of northwest Minnesota showing Red River. There are five call-out boxes making four statements: 1. River sends pollution to Canada; 2. Flows and pollution are increasing; 3. Bacteria is a problem; 4. Fish are doing ok; 5. Lots of people enjoy river

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Watersheds that feed the Red River of the North

These watersheds comprise all the land that drains water towards the river: