Cannon River

Watershed at a Glance

The Cannon River watershed is located south of the Twin Cities and encompasses areas of Dakota, Goodhue, Le Sueur, Steele, Rice and Waseca counties. The watershed drains approximately 1,460 square miles through two main channels, the Cannon and Straight Rivers, to the Mississippi at Red Wing.

Hydrologic Unit Code:07040002
Intensive monitoring start year:2011
Major lakesMajor rivers and streams
Byllesby, Jefferson, Tetonka, Cannon
Cannon, Straight, Little Cannon River, Trout Brook, Rice Creek


The Cannon River watershed represents a transition between the driftless terrain of the southeast Minnesota and the glaciated lands of south-central Minnesota. It includes 90 lakes and 107 wetlands of 10 acres or more in size. More than 70% of the land area is in cultivation.

    What's being done

    The MPCA and local partners have completed the following:

    • Intensive water monitoring of the watershed; see the PDF icon Cannon River Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Report for details.
    • Stressor identification work, examining documented biological (fish and bug) impairments — for more details see the PDF icon Cannon River Watershed Stressor Identification Report.
    • A special study of Rice Creek, a trout stream in Rice County. For details, visit the Cannon River Watershed Project webpage on the Rice Creek project.
    • Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) studies for Lake Volney and the Jefferson-German chain of lakes (approved by the U.S. EPA in September 2014). TMDL studies identify the total amount, or load, of pollutants that a waterbody can accept and still meet water quality standards.
    • A study of the Straight River watershed, which included an examination of the stream and river channels in that watershed, and construction of a model for use in future implementation planning.
    • With stakeholders, completed a SWAT model for the Little Cannon River watershed. SWAT stands for "Soil and Water Assessment Tool." It is a computer simulation designed to predict the environmental impact of land use, land management practices, and climate change in small watersheds. SWAT is widely used in assessing soil erosion prevention and control, non-point source pollution control and regional management in watersheds. It was jointly developed by USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and Texas A&M AgriLife Research, part of The Texas A&M University System.
    • A Hydrological Simulation Program – Fortran (HSPF) computer simulation model was developed to simulate hydrology and water quality in the watershed. HSPF is well-known for comprehensive modeling of both non-point (indirect) and point (direct) sources. The model simulated current watershed conditions as well as scenarios which simulate water quality changes that result from different non-point and point source loading. For example, non-point would include additional Best Management Practices for land such as installing buffers. Point sources would include adjusting the levels of pollutants permitted from a wastewater treatment plant discharge to a river. The model is used to prioritize locations in the watershed with water quality concerns and to assess how MPCA goals, like the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, can be reached. Reports on both the model’s development and the scenarios can be found below:

    Clean Water Act Accountability report

    Monitoring and assessment reports and data

    Strategy reports

    What is a watershed?

    Illustration showing contour of land directing flow of water

    Learn the basics of a watershed.

    Cannon River Watershed Partnership

    400 Washington Street
    Northfield, MN 55057