Leech Lake River

The Leech Lake River watershed is situated in the heart of Minnesota’s lake country and contains some of the most pristine natural resources in Minnesota. This watershed has a very high degree of biodiversity in its thousands of acres of forests and surface waters. One-half of Minnesota’s naturally producing Muskie lakes and a quarter of the natural Muskie habitat in the U.S. is located in the watershed.

Currently, the surface water resources within this watershed meet Minnesota’s water quality standards for conventional pollutants (not including mercury).  However, these resources are experiencing increased pressure from development and subsequent loss of shoreline and aquatic habitat. The surface water resources within this watershed are highly prized for their recreational value and these resources attract several hundred thousand vacationers to the area each year. The protection of these resources is vital in sustaining the local economy and natural heritage and character of this watershed. 

The major threats to the watershed include:

  • Loss of shoreline and aquatic habitat due to development.
  • Population growth of up to 60% projected for the watershed by 2030, according to Minnesota State Demographers.
  • Increased nutrient, contaminant, and sedimentation loading from stormwater runoff from development and other non-point sources.
  • Loss of biodiversity due to competition from invasive species.

    What's being done

    Monitoring and assessment

    Monitoring work in the Leech Lake River watershed began in 2012. Since then, watershed monitoring data has been collected through an intensive watershed monitoring approach where chemical and biological monitoring was conducted on the streams within the watershed. In addition, chemical monitoring was completed by local partners on select lakes within the watershed through the Surface Water Assessment Grant program.

    Many lake associations/citizens throughout the watershed actively participate in water quality monitoring through the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program. In an effort to fill lake data gaps, Cass County Environmental Services (ESD) and Hubbard SWCD are monitoring several lakes in the watershed through grants and local water plans. The Minnesota DNR and Cass County have worked together to identify sensitive shoreland areas on all lakes greater than 500 acres in Cass County. These sensitive shoreland areas represent the most critical fish and wildlife habitat areas for protection and will be evaluated for zoning re-classification to Resource Protection Districts. Citizens play an important part in “keeping clean waters clean” for future enjoyment. Citizens interested in getting involved with the project can contact the MPCA project manager.

    Strategy development for restoration and protection


    In addition, the Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation successfully continues toward its mission to fund, promote, and enable activities that will protect the natural environment of the Leech Lake Watershed. Through their efforts numerous land conservation projects have been implemented since 1997, including preserving and protecting over 20 miles of wild shoreline.