Root River

Root River in southeast Minnesota

The Root River starts as a drainage ditch in Mower County, then winds 81 miles from intensely farmed areas through more wooded, rolling terrain, and finally empties into the Mississippi River south of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Near Forestville State Park, the river literally disappears underground and resurfaces at the Mystery Cave near Preston.

Pollution from indirect sources such as runoff is the main water quality problem in the Root River watershed. Soil and nutrients enter the watershed’s many rivers and streams from urban and rural areas. Reducing these pollutants across a diverse landscape is the top challenge for water quality. The karst topography of the Root River watershed raises concerns about surface and groundwater mixing.

What's being done

Monitoring and assessment

Intensive water monitoring found 30 sections of streams to be impaired waters, meaning the stream sections fail to meet water quality standards.

Strategy development for restoration and protection

Local partners like the Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District continue to implement strategies to reduce sediment, nitrate and bacteria in the Root River and its tributaries. These strategies, found in the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) below, were developed by local partners and citizens. The MPCA approved the WRAPS document after accepting comments on it in 2016. The strategies are based on water monitoring and assessment results of streams in the Root River watershed, as well as identification of conditions that stress and foster healthy water for fish and other aquatic life (see reports below).

The MPCA and local partners conducted a study called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which determines the maximum amount of a pollutant that a stream can receive and still meet standards. See the full report below. Friends of the Root River (FORR), a citizen group formed in 2011, also plays an important role. FORR’s mission is to protect, restore and value the water resources in the Root River watershed.