Land use in the Lake Superior North watershed is a mix of smaller towns and commercial, resort and rural residential. Significant development is also located along Lake Superior’s shoreline. Tourism and forest products are significant components of land use activity. Some commercial/industrial uses, such as marinas, shipping ports and taconite processing support, depend upon water resources.
Several state parks are within the watershed, including Temperance, Cascade and Judge CR Magney. A large section of the southernmost Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is also within the watershed.
The watershed is a source of exceptional water quality in many areas. Some streams do not meet water quality standards for beneficial uses such as aquatic recreation, drinking and swimming due to a turbidity impairment. In this watershed. Turbidity is associated with suspended sediment. It is likely that after further monitoring of streams and tributaries, some will not meet the current turbidity standard.
Continued development pressures will add to the pollutant problems of some streams. The lower reaches of the Poplar River and Flute Reed River are two examples of stream areas experiencing recent and continued significant growth in the watershed area near the stream shoreline.
What's being done
Monitoring and assessment
A few streams that were monitored from 2001 to 2006 continue to be monitored today. The MPCA’s intensive watershed monitoring effort began in 2013 and is completed.
- Lake Superior North Stressor Identification report (wq-ws5-04010101a)
- Lake Superior Streams Sediment Assessment - Phase I report
- Lake Superior Streams Sediment Assessment - Phase II report (wq-b2-05)
- Lake Superior - North Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Report
- Summary: Lake Superior - North Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Report (wq-ws3-04010101c)
- Groundwater Report: Lake Superior North Watershed (wq-ws1-13)
Strategy development for restoration and protection
- A Paleolimnological Study of Deer Yard and Poplar Lakes in Cook County, Minnesota (wq-ws4-51d)
- Lake Superior–North Watershed WRAPS report summary (wq-ws4-51b)
- Flute Reed River HSPF Model December 22, 2017 memo (wq-iw10-13n)
- Lake Superior North and Lake Superior South Basins watershed model development report (wq-iw10-10n)
- Lake Superior North Watershed TMDL Flute Reed River (wq-iw10-13e) (EPA approval 9/13/2018)
- Lake Superior North and South TMDL: Appendices A-D (wq-iw10-10f)
- Lake Superior North Watershed TMDL Flute Reed River: EPA approval letter (wq-iw10-13g)
- Lake Superior North Watershed WRAPS Report (wq-ws4-51a) (MPCA approval 8/9/2018)
- Lake Superior North Watershed WRAPS Strategy Table (wq-ws4-51c)
A TMDL is completed for one stream, the Poplar River, with completed study and an implementation plan. The University of Minnesota conducted an investigation into sediment sources. After many years of project work to reduce erosion and sediment, the Poplar River is now meeting water quality standards. It has been proposed for removal from the Impaired Waters list. For more information about this successful outcome, visit the Poplar River TMDL Project webpage.
A citizen’s organization, in collaboration with the MPCA and the county Soil and Water Conservation District, has been monitoring the Flute Reed River. Several projects have also been completed in the watershed to improve Flute Reed River water quality.
Lake associations have been monitoring individual lakes and expanding management efforts to develop lake management plans. Caribou Lake, near Lutsen, shows improving water quality due to lowered nutrient inputs to the lake. Three sentinel lakes are located in the basin: Tait, Greenwood and Trout.
For more than a decade, local and state partners have been tackling stormwater and erosion problems on the Poplar River and won: The river is now meeting water quality standards for sediment.
New report confirms Lake Superior-North watershed contains some of the least-polluted rivers in state. But, increasing development and a changing climate may pose threats.