Roseau River

The Minnesota portion of the Roseau River watershed covers 774,197 acres; an additional 594,560 acres are across the U.S. border in Canada. The watershed is situated in two ecoregions. All but a relatively small part of the central portion of the watershed lies in the Northern Minnesota Wetlands ecoregion, and the central portion of the watershed is located in the Red River Valley ecoregion.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the watershed is the most severely impacted by flooding in the Red River Basin. Annual average flood damage (in 1996 dollars) in the watershed was estimated at nearly $4.9 million with 92% of the damage being rural. The watershed suffers 24% of flood damages occurring in the Red River Basin, outside of damages occurring along the main stem of the Red River.

Resource concerns include improved drainage for crop production, grazing management of forest and grassland, water/wind erosion, and water quality impacts. Additional resource concerns include management of flooding, short growing season, and pasture management.

The entire watershed was once covered by Glacial Lake Agassiz. When the lake receded, it left behind a level plain containing beach ridges and remnant lakes. Elevation in the watershed is approximately 1,250 feet at the headwaters, and about 780 feet at the mouth of the Roseau River. A buried aquifer underlies an area along the Roseau River in the northeastern portion of the watershed.

The majority of land within this watershed is not highly erodible, and is well to moderately well suited to agricultural uses. Agricultural land use in the basin accounts for slightly less than 50% of the watershed’s acres. Wetlands make up another 43%.

What's being done

The Roseau River Watershed (RRW) watershed approach process began in 2015 with intensive watershed monitoring. One lake and 14 streams were monitored, and the resulting water chemistry and biological data were used to assess the quality and use support of these waters. Water quality varies from good to poor throughout the watershed. In general, the Roseau River and most tributaries are in good condition, as is Hayes Lake (the watershed’s only lake). The 2018 federal 303(d) Impaired Waters list identifies eight RRW streams with a total of 11 impairment listings:

  • One for aquatic life (fish and/or aquatic insects/macroinvertebrates) due to turbidity (water is too cloudy)
  • One for aquatic life due to high levels of total suspended solids (TSS, similar to turbidity)
  • One for aquatic recreation (swimming, fishing) due to high levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • Three for aquatic life due to low aquatic insect/macroinvertebrate bioassessment or biological integrity scores
  • Two for aquatic life due to low fish bioassessment scores, and
  • Three for aquatic consumption due to mercury in fish tissue.

All of these impairments (with the exception of the impairments for mercury which are being addressed on a statewide basis) are addressed in a Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) report. In addition, TMDL studies were done to address the aquatic recreation impairment due to E. coli and the aquatic life impairments due to excessive TSS in Hay Creek. The goal of a TMDL study is to quantify pollutant reductions needed to meet state water quality standards.

TMDLs were not done for the other impairments for a variety of reasons, including that many are caused by periods of insufficient flows or insufficient habitat which cannot be addressed with a TMDL.

Restoring the impairments and protecting unimpaired waters will require the implementation of best management practices (BMP) in many places throughout the watershed. Examples of recommended BMPs include multipurpose flood control structures to provide detention/retention to reduce peak flows and maintain adequate base flows, stream restorations that include natural channel design, side water inlets, and improved livestock management.

Monitoring and assessment

Strategy reports