Upper/Lower Red Lake Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Report

The Upper/Lower Red Lake Watershed covers 1,263,678 acres (1,974 square miles) of northern Minnesota. Most of this forested watershed is located in the Minnesota Northern Wetlands Ecoregion (NCHF). Smaller portions of the watershed are located in the North Central Hardwood Forest Ecoregion and Northern Lakes and Forests (NLF) Ecoregion. Extensive areas of black spruce bog and other wetland types are present in the northern and eastern portions of the watershed. Upper and Lower Red Lake, two of the largest bodies of water in Minnesota, are located within the watershed. Due to the sheer size of these lakes, open water accounts for almost 25% of the watersheds surface area. Other major lakes found within the watershed include Blackduck, Puposky, Bartlett, Medicine, White Fish, Balm, and Kesagiagan. Major rivers within the Upper/Lower Red Lake Watershed include the Blackduck River, South Cormorant River, North Cormorant River, Battle River, Tamarac River, and Sandy River. Other smaller tributaries within the watershed include the North Branch of the Battle River, South Branch of the Battle River, Lost River, Mud River, Little Tamarac River, Shotley Brook, O'Brien Creek, and Pike Creek. A substantial portion of the watershed lies within the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Less than 2% of the land within the watershed is considered developed. Agricultural land use, consisting primarily of pasture and hay production, occurs primarily within the southeastern portion of the watershed. Only 0.8% of the land is utilized for row crop production. The vast expanses of wetland and forest combined with light development promote good water quality within the Upper/Lower Red Lake Watershed. In 2014, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) began an intensive watershed monitoring (IWM) effort of lakes and streams within the Upper/Lower Red Lake Watershed. Thirty-five stream sites were sampled for biology at the outlet of variable sized subwatersheds. As part of this effort, MPCA contracted with the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources (RLDNR) to complete water chemistry sampling on 16 stream reaches. In 2016, lakes and streams with sufficient data were assessed for aquatic life, aquatic recreation, and aquatic consumption use support. Considerable data was provided by the RLDNR. The RLDNR monitored numerous lakes within the reservation boundary and provided this data to the MPCA for assessment despite the fact that the agency was unable to provide funding for this monitoring. During this process, 28 stream segments were assessed for aquatic life; 20 were assessed for aquatic recreation. Sixty-six lakes were assessed for aquatic recreation and five lakes were assessed for aquatic life. Eighteen stream segments fully supported aquatic life. The remaining 10 segments did not support aquatic life and were considered impaired. Twelve of the stream segments assessed for aquatic recreation were found to be impaired. Seven aquatic life impairments were the result of poor fish and/or macroinvertebrate communities. In some cases, the poor biological communities were attributed to a lack of habitat heterogeneity (i.e. limited habitat types). Excess fine sediment was covering coarse substrate or reducing channel development in these reaches. Other biological impairments appear to be the result of low dissolved oxygen (DO) from natural wetland influence. Wetlands have a profound effect on the aquatic ecosystems within the Upper/Lower Red Lake Watershed. The flushing of organic matter from wetlands into streams causes DO levels to decline significantly. Such phenomenon were observed during intensive water chemistry monitoring on the Tamarac River and North Branch of the Battle River. Other systems in the watershed likely experience reduced DO from wetland input. The remaining three aquatic life impairments were the result of low DO and/or elevated Total Suspended Solids (TSS). The Upper/Lower Red Lake Watershed has approximately 214 lakes. Of the 66 lakes assessed for aquatic recreation, 7 were found to not support aquatic recreation.
Date Issued
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Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (St. Paul, Minnesota)
Rights Holder
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Rights Management
Public Domain