Mar 07, 2019

Drainage Systems Threaten Red River Quality

The Minnesota river has faced an increase in pollution due to drainage systems and polluted storm water runoff

Red River water quality declines due to polluted storm water runoff and drainage systems
Red River water quality declines due to polluted storm water runoff and drainage systems

A new assessment by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) found that the Red River is polluted by excess sediment and damaging nutrients for most of its length. The study points to drainage systems near creeks and streams feeding the river that drive too much water too quickly downstream in the spring after heavy rainfall.

According to The Star Tribune, the river’s volume has increased from decades of irrigation and agricultural drainage that have caused the area to become “one of the most artificially drained areas in the world,” the study said. MPCA also found that most creeks and streams feeding the Red River have been altered by drainage systems to push water too quickly downstream after spring rains, causing segments of the river to flood. The flooded river then picks up manure, sewage and other polluted runoff and carries it downstream.

The Red River provides drinking water to thousands of residents along the border between Minnesota and North Dakota and empties into Lake Winnipeg in Canada. Watershed districts and municipalities have been increasingly concerned with the river’s rising pollution rates in recent years.

Lake Winnipeg, where the river drains, has faced multiple algae blooms in recent years exacerbated by excess nutrients. While the U.S. and Canada have signed a treaty to limit the river’s phosphorus loads by half on both sides of the border, neither country has a concrete plan, reported The Star Tribune.

The study is part of a larger movement by the MPCA to assess all of Minnesota’s major rivers, with reports already completed on the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. The St. Croix will be the next river the agency studies.

“We need to work cooperatively, and now we have more concrete information, so when we’re working with local partners we can use it in the planning processes,” said Jim Ziegler, MPCA regional manager.