Minnesota River - Yellow Medicine River/Hawk Creek

Watershed at a Glance

The Minnesota River: Evaluating its health [highlight]


The Minnesota River - Yellow Medicine River watershed (1,306,502 acres) has traditionally been managed as two separate watersheds, the Hawk Creek watershed to the north of the Minnesota River and the Yellow Medicine River watershed to the south of the Minnesota River. Both waterways enter the Minnesota River downstream of Granite Falls.

The Hawk Creek Watershed drains 612,822 acres (958 square miles) of land. It is unique among the other major watersheds of the Minnesota River in that it is composed of a main tributary (Hawk Creek) and several other streams that flow directly into the Minnesota River. For this project, the watershed work area includes Hawk, Chetomba, Beaver, and West Fork Beaver Creeks. Hawk Creek originates in the lakes region of Kandiyohi County and flows approximately 65 miles to its mouth in the Minnesota River, located eight miles southeast of Granite Falls. Several municipalities are located directly on the stream or on a tributary and use the creek to discharge wastewater treatment plant effluent or stormwater effluent. There are no municipalities directly on Hawk Creek that depend on it for drinking water or industries in the watershed that draw heavily on water resources.  

The Yellow Medicine River and the associated watershed is the primary conduit of this system originating in Lincoln County located in western Minnesota bordering South Dakota. Lake Shaokatan is considered the start of the river with North and South branches joining several miles downstream, along with Mud Creek from the west, flowing generally north east after running down the eastern slope of the Coteau des Prairies or Buffalo Ridge. Spring Creek flows at a much gentler slope and joins the main stem several miles later. The flow continues eastward to the Minnesota River south of Granite Falls. The watershed lies in the Northern Glaciated Plains ecoregion and has land use patterns typical for this ecoregion. The urban and developed land includes nine cities and communities, public roads, and railroads.

Hydrologic Unit Code:07020004
Intensive monitoring start year:2020
Major lakesMajor rivers and streams
Curtis, Shaokotan, Long, Eagle, Ringo, Willow, Foot, Willmar
Hawk Creek, Chetomba Creek, Stony Run Creek, County Ditch 12


Hawk Creek. Fifteen lakes also lie within its borders, including significant waters such as Eagle, Long, Foot and Willmar. Lake homes and lake recreational activities such as fishing, swimming and boating are common activities in the lakes region of the watershed in Kandiyohi County. Additionally, several county/regional parks and more than 15 state wildlife management areas dot the watershed’s landscape. Agriculture is the dominant land use in the watershed and nearly 98% of the original wetlands in the watershed have been drained to increase agricultural opportunities. Agriculture depends on the creek and an extensive network of drainage ditches, open tile intakes and sub-surface tile systems to move water off the landscape and make it suitable for row crop farming. Corn, soybeans, and sugar beets are the primary crops grown in the watershed. Livestock production primarily consists of dairy, turkey, beef and swine. There is some livestock pasturing along riparian areas in the lower portions of the watershed, but it is limited and continues to decrease.

Yellow Medicine River. Cropland includes land used for the production of row crops, small grains, hay and rotation pasture. Pastureland is used primarily for the production of adapted domesticated forage species used for grazing. Rangeland differs from pastureland in that the natural vegetation is predominantly grasses and grass-like plants, forbs, and shrubs suitable for grazing or use as browse. Forest land is land used primarily for the production of wood crops and/or, if applicable, other compatible uses such as recreation, wildlife, grazing, and watershed improvement and protection. The urban and developed land includes nine cities and communities, public roads, and railroads. Other land uses include farmsteads, private roads, quarries and pits, and privately owned wildlife areas. The land use in the Yellow Medicine sub-basin consists of 348,000 acres of cropland (82.3 %), 37,400 acres of pastureland and rangeland (8.9%), 3,600 acres of forest land (0.9%), 3,000 acres of urban and built-up areas (0.7%), and 30,600 acres of other land (7.2%). Total acreage is 422,600.

Basin information

The Minnesota River - Yellow Medicine River watershed is one of the 13 major watersheds in the Minnesota River Basin.

What's being done

MPCA’s intensive watershed monitoring effort was conducted in 2010-2011. Both the Hawk Creek Watershed Project and the Yellow Medicine River Watershed District have extensive long-term water quality monitoring data. Following monitoring, a Watershed Restoration and Protection Study and an Implementation Plan has been developed for both the Hawk Creek and Yellow Medicine River Watersheds. Technical assistance and best management practice cost-share programs are available for both sub-watersheds. TMDL assessments have been developed for Lake Shaokatan in the Yellow Medicine River watershed, and Long and Ringo Lakes in the Hawk Creek watershed.

Monitoring and assessment reports

Strategy reports

Implementation plans

What is a watershed?

Illustration showing contour of land directing flow of water

Learn the basics of a watershed.

Darrell Schindler, MPCA project manager


Hawk Creek Watershed Project


Yellow Medicine River Watershed District