Des Moines River - Headwaters

Des Moines River at Windom, MN

Watershed at a Glance

The Des Moines River - Headwaters watershed is located in southwestern Minnesota. It covers approximately 1,334 square miles including parts of Lyon, Pipestone, Murray, Cottonwood, Nobles, Jackson, and Martin counties. It has five subwatersheds – Lake Shetek, Beaver Creek, Heron Lake, Lime Creek, and the West Fork Des Moines River Main Stem. The river joins the East Fork Des Moines River in Iowa, and eventually enters the Mississippi River at Keokuk, Iowa.

Hydrologic Unit Code:07100001
Intensive monitoring start year:2014
Major lakesMajor rivers and streams
Heron, Shetek, Great Oasis
Des Moines, Okabena Creek, Jack Creek


The river is used for recreational activities such as fishing, tubing, snowmobiling, and canoeing. It is also a valuable fisheries resource with the following species of fish prevalent throughout the watershed: northern pike, buffalo, carp, walleye, channel catfish, crappie, and bullhead.  Land use is primarily agriculture.

    What's being done

    A TMDL was approved in December 2008 that addressed bacteria, turbidity, pH, and excess nutrients. An implementation plan for this TMDL was approved in September 2009.  Since the approval, several grants have been received by local entities.

    Monitoring and assessment

    PDF icon Des Moines River Basin Monitoring and Assessment Report (wq-ws3-07100001b)

    The monitoring and assessment report is the first in a series of reports for watershed work conducted in the three Minnesota watersheds of the Des Moines River Basin. The report shares information on monitoring conducted to further information about the watersheds through Intensive Watershed Monitoring (IWM), and assessments on aquatic life, aquatic recreation, and drinking water uses.

    PDF icon Summary - Des Moines River Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Report (wq-ws3-07100001c)

    PDF icon Des Moines River Watershed Characterization Report - Minnesota Digital Water Research Library

    Implementation plan

    PDF icon West Fork Des Moines River and Heron Lake TMDL Implementation Plan

    What is a watershed?

    Illustration showing contour of land directing flow of water

    Learn the basics of a watershed.

    Katherine Pekarek-Scott, MPCA project manager