Red River Basin - MPCA report shows damage, repairs needed

Times Report
Crookston Times

    Cloudy water caused by too much sediment. Unsafe swimming conditions due to high bacteria levels. Algae growth from nutrients that cut off oxygen supply to fish and bugs.

    These common water quality problems are documented throughout the Red River Basin in ten years’ worth of in-depth studies by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

    Reports on two specific watersheds — the Roseau River and the Snake-Middle Rivers — are now open for public review and comment. They are among the final in a series of reports detailing the agency’s comprehensive assessment of the broader Red River Basin.

    The studies are part of the MPCA’s watershed approach to restoring and protecting Minnesota’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands, which gauges the health of all major watersheds in Minnesota. Assessment of 12 watersheds in the Red River Basin are now complete and the remaining five will be done by 2021, identifying impaired waters and stressors to fish and bugs, determining pollutant reductions needed to restore waters to standards, and developing strategies for protection as well as restoration.

    The process involves completing Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) reports. A TMDL report determines the levels of pollutants that water bodies can receive and still meet standards designed to protect aquatic life (fish and aquatic insects) and recreation.

    WRAPS reports recommend steps for restoring impaired waters and protecting unimpaired waters.

    The Roseau River Watershed reports describe several stream impairments, including those for aquatic life (fish and aquatic insects) due to high levels of sediment in the water and poor habitat, and one for aquatic recreation due to high levels of E. coli bacteria.

    The Snake-Middle Rivers Watershed reports also list many impairments, including 16 biological impairments to fish and aquatic insects. This means there are fewer numbers and species of them than expected in many streams. Eight impairments are being addressed with TMDL studies (three recreational use impairments caused by elevated E. coli levels and five aquatic life use impairments caused by turbidity).

    Scientists conclude many problems in the Roseau River and Snake-Middle Rivers watersheds are linked to inconsistent stream flows — high-flows during spring runoff and summer rain events and extended low-flow periods for much of the rest of the year.

    These inconsistent flows are caused, in part, by much of the land area having been drained and streams altered. Climate change is bringing more frequent and intense storms, worsening the runoff situation.

    Reports are expected over the next several months for the Clearwater, Marsh, Wild Rice, Upper and Lower Red Lakes, and Otter Tail watersheds.

    The Snake-Middle Rivers and Roseau River watersheds reports are open for public comment through Oct. 21. To view copies of the reports, visit their respective web pages, Snake-Middle Rivers Watershed, Roseau River Watershed.

    Mail or email written comments for the Snake-Middle Rivers Watershed reports to Danielle Kvasager, MPCA, 714 Lake Ave. Ste. 220, Detroit Lakes MN 56501; phone 218-846-8117; Email:

    Submit comments for the Roseau River Watershed reports to Cary Hernandez, MPCA, 714 Lake Ave. Ste. 220, Detroit Lakes MN 56501; phone 218-846-8124; Email:

    Written comments must include to which report the comments pertain, a statement of the respondent’s interest in the report, and the action requested of the MPCA, including specific references to sections of the draft report that should be changed, and the reasons for making those changes.

    The MPCA may revise the reports based on comments received before sending the TMDL report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.