Mississippi River - Brainerd

The Upper Mississippi River - Brainerd watershed covers 1,079,950 acres (1,687 square miles) in the north-central part of the Upper Mississippi River Basin in central Minnesota. The watershed boundary begins in Aitkin County where the river flows through the cities of Aitkin, Brainerd/Baxter, and Little Falls. The watershed encompasses all or parts of Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, and Todd counties.


Almost half of the watershed is forested (42%), while grasslands and shrub wetlands make up 38%, row crops 10%, water 6%, and 4% is urban. The majority of the watershed is within the North Central Hardwood Forest with small sections in the Northern Lakes and Forests ecoregion.

The watershed has approximately 2,149 total river miles and contains 212 lakes greater than 10 acres in size. There are several impaired lakes and streams in this watershed.

What's being done

Minnesota has adopted a "watershed approach" to address the state’s 80 major watersheds. This approach looks at the drainage area as a whole instead of focusing on lakes and stream sections one at a time, thus increasing effectiveness and efficiency. Specific activities in this watershed:

  1. Monitoring water bodies and collecting data over two years on water chemistry and biology. (2016, 2017)
  2. Assessing the data to determine which waters are impaired, which conditions are stressing water quality, and which factors are fostering healthy waters. (2017-2018)
  3. Developing strategies to restore and protect the watershed’s water bodies, and report them in a document called Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS). (2019-2020)
  4. Coordinating with local One Watershed-One Plan efforts for implementation of restoration and protection projects. (2020-beyond)

The monitoring and assessment data revealed that 74 lakes in the watershed are healthy and meet water quality standards however, 18 did not meet standards and are considered impaired. Forty-one stream/river reaches in the watershed were assessed and the data showed that 25 streams do not meet state standards.

Strategies for addressing the identified issues in the watershed include:

  • promoting lake and stream protection through keeping or establishing native vegetation, easements and forest stewardship;
  • reducing stormwater runoff in urban areas and around lakes;
  • managing livestock and associated wastes in a manner that protects lakes and streams; and
  • restoring altered stream hydrology.

Monitoring and assessment reports and data

Strategy reports