Elk River Watershed


The Elk River Watershed (ERW) is located northwest of the Twin Cities metropolitan area in the North Central Hardwood Forests ecoregion. The watershed consists of approximately 392,320 acres (613 square miles) over Sherburne, Benton, Mille Lacs, and Morrison Counties however, the majority of the watershed lies within Benton and Sherburne Counties. The headwaters of the Elk River is located in northern Benton County, and moves south eastward towards the City of Elk River where it eventually joins the Mississippi River. The Elk River Watershed is a subwatershed of the larger Mississippi River - St. Cloud Watershed.

Land use in the northern portion of the watershed is primarily agricultural with a high feedlot density. The southern portion is mainly irrigated agriculture and urban/residential developments. The high percentage of agricultural land use in riparian areas increases potential to introduce phosphorus, sediment, and bacteria to surface waters. Furthermore, the numerous small to medium sized feedlots and riparian pastures offer additional opportunities for  manure to enter surface water directly. 

In 2008, Mayhew Lake (Benton County) and Big Elk Lake (Sherburne County) were added to the impaired waters list due to excess nutrients. The Elk River was listed as impaired due to turbitidy in 2006, and fecal coliform in 2008. 

Elk River Watershed TMDL


The Elk River Watershed Association (ERWA) and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) began working on TMDLs for Mayhew Lake, Big Elk Lake, and the Elk River late in 2008. Since that time the ERWA has completed the rigorous collection of water quality data to support the program, held a series of public meetings which took place at different stages of the program, and completed a draft TMDL Report and corresponding Water Quality Cleanup Plan.

These TMDLs focus on Mayhew Lake (about eight miles northeast of the city of Sauk Rapids), Big Elk Lake (just northeast of the city of Clear Lake), and a stretch of the Elk River (between Big Elk Lake and the St. Francis River. Mayhew Lake and Big Elk Lake are impaired due to excess nutrients, primarily phosphorus. The Elk River reach is impaired due to excess turbidity and bacteria, primarily E. coli.

The TMDL indicates that a load reduction of 72.5% for the Elk River is required to meet State standards

For more information on the Elk River Watershed, visit the Elk River Watershed Association Website