The Cloquet River watershed covers approximately 507,858 acres (794 square miles) and is located within portions of Lake and St. Louis Counties in northeastern Minnesota. Originating from Cloquet and Katherine Lakes, the Cloquet River flows approximately 100 miles to its confluence with the St. Louis River near the community of Brookston. The upper watershed, above Island Lake, is heavily forested and sparsely populated, and portions are included within the Superior National Forest and Cloquet Valley State Forest. Below Island Lake, lands are more developed, and the stream is influenced by four reservoir lakes that support hydro-power production on the St. Louis River.
The Cloquet River is one of the few areas in of the Lake Superior Basin where lakes are prominent landscape features. Most of the Lake Superior Basin is either very poorly drained or consists of rivers that drain semi-mountainous terrain. The Cloquet River watershed contains four major reservoir lakes and a series of smaller lakes that are characteristic of glacial till and sand landscapes.
The Cloquet River is unique in many ways:
- It is a major canoe route, with riverside camp sites scattered both upstream and downstream of Island Lake. It was studied for inclusion in Minnesota’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Though not selected, the river’s exceptional recreational and scenic value was recognized later by the St. Louis River Management Plan. The river has since been managed to protect those values.
- Forest fragmentation and logging are two of the primary stressors of the upper Cloquet River. While there are large blocks of public forest land in the watershed, there is also significant private landownership within the forest. This forest land is being sold more frequently, being subdivided and cleared for second or secluded home sites for an increasingly mobile work force. Logging also occurs throughout the watershed on state, federal, county and private lands.
- Conflicting water uses and water quality complaints are common among property owners and resource user in the reservoir lakes. Water quality and recreational uses are influenced by changes in water levels, shoreline development, recreational use, inadequate sewage treatment, and overland runoff.
What's being done
Minnesota Power owns and operates the reservoir system and large land tracts in the watershed. As part of their management role, the company helps sponsor the Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center. The 18,000-acre Boulder Lake Management Area and learning center provide ongoing programming for recreational users of the Cloquet River and nearby forests.
A mosaic of organizations manages land and water resources in the Cloquet River Watershed. One of the more visible grassroots organizations is the Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest. State and federal land managers, biologists, and hydrologists also manage forests, recreational use, and carry out a wide range of water quality, habitat, and land-management research.
The 1854 Authority, a Ojibwe treaty rights group, is engaged in propagating and monitoring wild rice in the watershed and throughout the treaty area.
Monitoring and assessment
- Cloquet River Watershed Stressor Identification Report (wq-ws5-04010202a)
- Cloquet River Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Report (wq-ws3-04010202b)
- Cloquet River Watershed Monitoring & Assessment Report - Summary (wq-ws3-04010202c)
Strategy development for restoration and protection
- Cloquet River Watershed WRAPS report (wq-ws4-72a) (MPCA approval 10/27/2020)
- Summary: Cloquet River watershed WRAPS report (wq-ws4-72b)