The Rainy River - Rainy Lake watershed covers 583,791 acres. Open water makes up 75,815 of those acres and wetlands occupy another 84,851 acres. The watershed is 64% in St. Louis County and 36% in Koochiching County. The northern boundary is part of the international border waters with Ontario, Canada. There are no large cities in this remote watershed. Ranier (pop. 195) is the only town and is located on the northwestern-most corner of the watershed.
The eastern two-thirds of massive Rainy Lake is part of the border lakes in Voyageurs National Park (VNP), as are adjacent Namakan and Sand Point Lakes. VNP also includes Kabetogama Lake. These four very large, interconnected lakes provide spectacular, undeveloped scenery, dotted with islands. Motor boats and other watercraft are allowed within the park and are the only practical means of entering this unique national park. Winter access is by snowmobile, dog sled or skis. This area is primarily boreal forest on shallow soils over bedrock or peat bog. This watershed’s eastern four-fifths is in the Border Lakes ecological sub-region; the western one-fifth is in the Little Fork / Vermillion Uplands interlaced with extensive wetland bogs. Wilderness recreation/tourism is the prime economic driver due to the scenic beauty, resorts, camping, fishing and hunting opportunities. Logging also occurs outside of the VNP.
What's being done
Monitoring and assessment
The Rainy River Basin Plan, which included this watershed, was published in 2004 in partnership with local, county and other state agencies. Significant and successful collaborative efforts have been made with Canadian resource agencies and the International Joint Commission to manage the Rainy River Basin waters on both sides of the border. All the major lakes in this watershed have a fish consumption advisory for mercury levels. Intensive watershed monitoring started on this watershed in 2016.