in-depth information
quick/easy answers
in-depth info
news from shore to shore
who to contact
site search
additional resources
contact us
rivers primer index
how rivers function
stream order
stream processes / hydrologic
mn rivers / major watersheds
geomorphologic features
physical/chemical properties
water quality
ecoregion land use
river water use / offstream
river management / regulations affecting rivers
water withdrawals
dams, reservoirs, and navigation
river channel and wetland alteration
public land
commercial and recreational traffic
water quality
future management
monitoring and data / flow
water quality
monitoring programs / federal
river facts
agency contacts
water quality data sources

Minnesota Rivers

A Primer

Mary E. Renwick
Susanna Eden
Water Resources Center
University of Minnesota


Natural waters play a central role in the lives of Minnesotans. The State’s great rivers — the Red River of the North, Mississippi, St. Croix and Minnesota — provide water for many purposes: hydropower, irrigation, drinking water, recreation, fishing resources, as well as waste disposal. Minnesota boasts substantial river resources with over 92,000 miles of rivers. It contains the headwaters for three major U.S. river systems: the Mississippi, the Red River of the North and the St. Lawrence.

Given the prominence of rivers in the lives of Minnesotans, these resources need to be managed wisely. A prerequisite for rational management of any natural resource is an understanding of the characteristics of the resource, the current and potential stresses acting upon it, and the way the resource responds, or is expected to respond, to such stresses. The purpose of this primer is to provide the reader with a basic understanding of how river systems function, their specific uses, and management and monitoring of Minnesota river systems. A brief profile of the State’s rivers is also provided. Future publications will provide detailed profiles of the State’s four great rivers including the Red River of the North, Mississippi, St. Croix and Minnesota.

This primer is intended as a basic reference for those interested in Minnesota’s river systems. It is written for both a general audience with no background in river sciences as well as individuals with training and experience in rivers science and management. It was organized into five chapters. Many factors, including geologic, hydrologic, climactic and human land-use conditions, determine how a river functions. Understanding a river system involves understanding the complex interaction of these factors. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the principal components of river systems. Chapter 2 details Minnesota’s river systems. The various uses of Minnesota river water are detailed in Chapter 3. Who controls Minnesota’s rivers? This question is explored in Chapter 4, which introduces how policy, planning and management activities affect Minnesota rivers. Monitoring plays an essential role in policy, planning and management activities related to streams and rivers. Chapter 5 provides an overview of monitoring activities affecting Minnesota’s rivers and streams and the agencies responsible for collecting, analyzing, reporting and storing the information. For web use, the primer has been broken into sections you can view on the left of every page. At the bottom of every page, there are forward and back arrows to take you to the next and previous pages.


back index forward