Minnesota River - Headwaters

Source of Minnesota River at Ortonville

Watershed at a Glance

The Minnesota River: Evaluating its health [highlight]


The Minnesota River - Headwaters covers 487,015 acres in the Prairie Parkland ecoregion of southwestern Minnesota. Portions of Traverse, Big Stone, Swift, Lac qui Parle, Stevens, and Chippewa counties drain the watershed. It contains the communities of Browns Valley, Beardsley, Barry, Clinton, Ortonville, Odessa, Louisburg, Bellingham, Correll, Milan, and Nassau. A large portion of the watershed extends into eastern South Dakota. Nearly 87 percent of the land in this watershed is privately owned.

Hydrologic Unit Code:07020001
Intensive monitoring start year:2015
Major lakesMajor rivers and streams
Big Stone, Marsh, Lac qui Parle Lake, Long Tom
Yellow Bank, Whetstone, Little Minnesota, Stoney Run


Nearly 87 percent of the land in this watershed is privately owned. Land use in watershed is primarily agricultural, accounting for approximately 80% of the available acres. Two-year corn/soybean rotations comprise close to 90% of cropped lands within the watershed; small grains, hay, and grasslands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program make up the majority of the balance.

    What's being done

    The Minnesota River - Headwaters watershed conducted intensive watershed monitoring in 2015-16 by the MPCA. The stressor identification process is under way to determine what is stressing biological communities in the impaired reaches. Modeling was completed in 2017 for use in the development of the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy due in 2020. Additional watershed data is being collected such as drainage and shoreline.

    What is a watershed?

    Illustration showing contour of land directing flow of water

    Learn the basics of a watershed.

    Upper Minnesota River Watershed District


    Lac qui Parle - Yellow Bank Watershed District