Mississippi River - Sartell

Watershed at a Glance

The Mississippi River - Sartell watershed covers approximately 652,800 acres (1,020 square miles) in the central part of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The watershed is also known locally as the Platte-Spunk Rivers watershed. The watershed includes parts of Benton, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Stearns, and Todd counties. Major communities located in the watershed include Lastrup, Pierz, Buckman, Royalton, Upsala, Bowlus, Rice, Holdingford, Avon, St. Joseph, and Sartell.  The Mississippi River - Sartell watershed has 879 total river miles and contains 232 lakes with a total acreage of 13,319.

Hydrologic Unit Code:07010201
Intensive monitoring start year:2016
Major lakesMajor rivers and streams
Big Watab, Pelican, Two River Lake, Platte, Sullivan, Little Rock, Spunk (Big, Middle, Lower)
Mississippi River, Hillman Creek, Little Rock Creek, North Two River, South Two River, Platte, Skunk, Spunk Creek, Two River, Watab


The Mississippi River - Sartell watershed is located in the North Central Hardwood Forest ecoregion of Minnesota. This watershed is primarily agricultural, with approximately 96% of the land in this watershed under private ownership.  The predominate land uses are grass/pasture/hay (35%), row crops (29%), forest (19%), and wetlands (9%). 

The Mississippi River experiences one of its greatest drops in elevation within the Upper Mississippi River Basin within this watershed. From the community of Little Falls (just outside the watershed to the north) to Royalton, the river drops 6½  feet for every mile of river.

The Mississippi River flows through the central portion of this watershed and its confluence with several small creeks and streams is one of the significant natural features in this watershed. The lakes are primarily situated in the northeastern and southwestern corners of the watershed with a diverse network of tributaries located throughout the central region of the watershed. The excessively drained sand plain regions are some of the most intensively used lands within the watershed, and much of these areas are situated along the Mississippi River. These areas are sensitive to groundwater pollution and thus the implementation of best management practices is emphasized. Currently, there are two lakes and several streams within this watershed that do not meet Minnesota’s surface water quality standards for conventional parameter (not including mercury) pollutants. The shorelines of the lakes within this watershed tend to be developed and the tributary streams primarily flow through areas of agricultural land use.

The diverse surface water resources within this watershed provide important recreational opportunities and economic benefits to the citizens and visitors to the watershed. Working cooperatively to restore and protect these resources is vital in the sustainability of these essential assets.

The major threats to the watershed include:

  • Loss of shoreline buffers and habitat due to development.
  • Introduction of large amounts of phosphorus, sediment, and bacteria to surface waters.
  • 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.
  • Relatively high percentage of agricultural and urban/residential land uses within the riparian or sensitive areas of the watershed.
  • Protecting drinking water supplies from bacteria impairments.

    What's being done

    There are several water quality activities currently taking place in the watershed.

    • Implementation activities associated with two recent Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) projects, sponsored by the Benton SWCD: Little Rock Lake for nutrients (2012), and Little Rock Creek for aquatic life (2014).
    • The Upper Mississippi River Bacteria TMDL project was completed in 2014.
    • Morrison County completed a revision of their local water plan in 2010.
    • Stearns County SWCD completed a revision to its water plan in 2013.
    • Stearns County Environmental Services is the project sponsor on a Clean Water Partnership (CWP) diagnostic study project (2013) for Pelican Lake of St. Anna.
    • The Mississippi River Renaissance continues to work to empower Mississippi River communities in Benton and Stearns Counties to actively protect and improve the river.
    • The Platte River Watershed Association also continues to work collaboratively with the citizens of the Platte River watershed and the MPCA to gather additional water quality data within this sub-watershed.

    In addition, in helping to support existing water quality projects, the MPCA is working to establish flow monitoring stations on important tributaries within this watershed. Citizens interested in getting involved with the project can contact the MPCA project manager.

    Strategy reports

    PDF icon Our Upper Mississippi River Large River and Basin Restoration and Protection Strategies (wq-ws4-38b)

    What is a watershed?

    Illustration showing contour of land directing flow of water

    Learn the basics of a watershed.

    Stearns Soil and Water Conservation District

    320-251-7800, Ext. 3

    Stearns County Environmental Services


    Morrison County Soil and Water Conservation District


    Morrison County Planning and Zoning


    Benton Soil & Water Conservation District

    320-968-5300 Ext. 3

    Benton County Department of Development


    Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District


    Crow Wing County Environmental Services


    Todd Soil and Water Conservation District


    Todd County Environment and Land Resources


    Mississippi River Renaissance

    320-251-7800 x 161