Cedar River

Watershed at a Glance

The Cedar River watershed in Minnesota encompasses 454,029 acres in Mower, Freeborn, Dodge, and Steele counties. The Cedar River runs about 300 miles, from its headwaters in Dodge County to Louisa County in southeast Iowa, where it joins the Iowa River and winds its way to the Mississippi River. This watershed covers prime agricultural land with many streams and drainage ditches flowing into the river.

Hydrologic Unit Code:07080201
Intensive monitoring start year:2009
Major lakesMajor rivers and streams
Geneva, Rice, Mud
Cedar River, Roberts Creek, Dobbins Creek, Turtle Creek


This Cedar River watershed covers prime agricultural land with many streams and drainage ditches flowing into the river. The watershed is fairly flat with shallow lakes and rivers. Extensive drainage, to facilitate farming, has altered the hydrology of the watershed.

Austin is located on the Cedar River at the confluence of several tributaries. This watershed has a history of flooding that results in crop and property damage.

      What's being done

      Several lakes and sections of streams in the watershed fail to meet state water quality standards. Problems include sediment making the water turbid (cloudy), excess nutrients, bacteria, and mercury or PCBs in fish tissue. To address these problems, the Mower County SWCD is coordinating a study, which will identify sources of pollutants, recommend reductions in pollutant amounts, and outline ways to achieve those reductions.

      The Cedar River Watershed District has also received a grant for conservation practices to reduce nitrates in the streams and rivers. The Turtle Creek Watershed District has reclaimed shallow lakes for better fish and wildlife habitat through deliberate fish kills and restocking of desirable species. The watershed districts are also working with their counties to replace failing on-site sewer systems.

      There are two upper Cedar River subwatersheds in Minnesota that have been included in the USDA's Mississippi River Healthy Watershed Initiative (MRBI). These subwatersheds are the Blooming Prairie Tributary (31,000 acres) and the Austin-Cedar River subwatershed (35,000 acres), which are both upstream of Austin. Within these targeted subwatersheds, there will be a special emphasis on the implementation of agricultural conservation practices, and concurrent stream monitoring, to track effectiveness. Special USDA funding will be available for landowners within these subwatersheds, for practices that include nutrient management and wetland restoration

      The Mower County SWCD has coordinated the development of a turbidity TMDL project since 2008. Both the Turtle Creek Watershed District and the Cedar River Watershed District have been cooperators in this effort. As of August 2011, draft TMDL reporting products are being developed, which will help determine the sediment reductions needed to meet water quality standards

        Monitoring and assessment reports and data

        What is a watershed?

        Illustration showing contour of land directing flow of water

        Learn the basics of a watershed.

        Bill Thompson, MPCA project manager


        Cedar River Watershed District


        Turtle Creek Watershed District


        Mower SWCD

        Bev Nordby