Mississippi River - Sartell

The Mississippi River - Sartell watershed covers approximately 652,800 acres (1,020 sq. miles) in the central part of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The watershed includes parts of Benton, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Stearns, and Todd counties. Major communities: Lastrup, Pierz, Buckman, Royalton, Upsala, Bowlus, Rice, Holdingford, Avon, St. Joseph, and Sartell. This watershed has 879 total river miles and 232 lakes that cover 13,319 acres.


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 predominant 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 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

Beginning in 2016, the MPCA undertook an intensive watershed monitoring effort of the surface waters in the Mississippi River Sartell Watershed (MRSW). Overall the biological communities found throughout the watershed are in fair to good condition. However, of the 50 stream reaches evaluated for aquatic recreation and/or aquatic life within the MRSW:

  • Sixteen of those reaches are not meeting water quality standards for aquatic life use due to pollutants including phosphorus, nitrate, and dissolved oxygen (DO), or nonpollutant stressors including issues related to longitudinal connective, temperature, habitat, and streamflow alteration.
  • Twenty-four reaches are not meeting the aquatic recreational use standard due to E. coli or fecal coliform. The Platte River (07010201-545) supports the only exceptional biological community in the MRSW with several sensitive fish and macroinvertebrate species present.

Fifty-one lakes were evaluated for aquatic recreation and 17 for aquatic life within the MRSW. Three of those lakes were found not to meet the aquatic recreational use standard due to phosphorus or nutrients, and two were found not to meet the aquatic life use standard for unknown stressors. Numerous lakes do not have sufficient data at this time to make a formal assessment for these uses. Overall, where long-term water quality information is available, increasing water quality clarity trends are found in 10 lakes and three streams with decreasing trends noticed in four lakes.

Restoration strategies in the WRAPS focus on addressing E. coli bacteria impairments in several stream reaches, eutrophication and excess nutrients in lakes, and biological impairments summarized in the SID report. Strategies to address sources of E. coli to streams include feedlot management practices, septic system maintenance and upgrades, pasture management, and stormwater control measures in urbanized areas. Restoration practices for phosphorus reduction to impaired lakes include internal lake and shoreline management, cover crops and living cover, tillage management, nutrient and fertilizer management, buffers, pasture management, and septic system maintenance and upgrades. Strategies to address biologically impaired streams were developed based on recommendations and assessments from the SID and include activities such as re-meandering streams using natural design principals, reconnecting flood plains, and instream and riparian habitat creation.

All waters in this watershed require protection in some capacity, including those listed as impaired and those with insufficient data. It is important to prioritize areas for protection, however, to better focus implementation of the WRAPS. Protection considerations were given for high value and high quality waters, and waters at risk of impairment.

Several lake associations/citizens throughout the watershed actively participate in water quality monitoring through the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program. Local partners and conservation organizations within this watershed continue to be extremely active in obtaining comprehensive water quality monitoring and assessment data on the various water resources, while working with landowners on the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) throughout the watershed. Citizens play an important part in helping to restore and protect our vital water resources going into the future. Citizens interested in getting involved with the project can contact the MPCA project manager.

Strategy reports

Monitoring and assessment reports and data