Red Lake River

Watershed at a Glance

The Red Lake watershed, which covers 909,024 acres, is part of the Red River Basin in northwestern Minnesota. The Red Lake River begins its course in Beltrami County at Lower Red Lake. The river flows westerly through the towns of Thief River Falls, Red Lake Falls, and Crookston, then converges with the Red River in East Grand Forks. The watershed occurs in the Glacial Lake Agassiz Plain and Northern Minnesota Wetlands Level III ecoregions.

Approximately 76% of the land in the watershed is owned by private landholders (694,217 acres). The second largest ownership type is Tribal, with approximately 164,300 acres (18%).

Hydrologic Unit Code:09020303
Intensive monitoring start year:2014
Major lakesMajor rivers and streams
Red Lake River, Burnham Creek


The greater Red Lake River watershed characteristically has a poorly defined floodplain and low gradient that combine with extensive drainage, widespread conversion of tallgrass prairie to farmland, and urban/suburban development to leave the area subject to frequent floods that affect urban and rural infrastructure and agricultural production.

The main resource concerns in the watershed are wind and water erosion, nutrient management, wetland management, surface water quality, flood damage reduction, and wildlife habitat. Many of the resource concerns relate directly to flooding and increased sediment and pollutant loadings to surface waters. Above-normal amounts of precipitation in the late fall of the year or from May to October lead to high levels of soil moisture, periodically producing the snow-melt and summer floods that are known to affect the further reaches of the overall Red River Basin.

Predominant land uses: Row crops (61%), wetlands (17%), forest (10%), grass/pasture/hay (6%), and residential/commercial development (5%). Development pressure is moderate in most areas, with occasional farms, timberland, and shorefront being parceled out for recreation, lake, or country homes.

    What's being done

    Intensive watershed monitoring and stressor identification work has been completed for the watershed and these reports are available below. The WRAPS and TMDL reports are currently in the final phases of development.

    Monitoring and assessment reports

    PDF icon Red Lake River Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Report

    PDF icon Red Lake River Watershed Stressor Identification Report

    What is a watershed?

    Illustration showing contour of land directing flow of water

    Learn the basics of a watershed.

    Denise Oakes, MPCA project manager