Watershed map shows Minnesota’s true geography

PHOTO: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

PHOTO: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released this fascinating map of the state’s watersheds.

The Minnesota PCA describes a watershed this way:

A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that drains off of it goes into the same place—a river, stream or lake. The smallest watersheds are the drainage areas for small streams and lakes. Think about your local creek or river. Where does it start? What type of landscape does it flow through? Where does it end up? All of the area covered is a watershed.

Each small watershed is part of the more extensive watershed for a larger stream or lake in the vicinity. These larger watersheds are, in turn, part of even larger drainage networks, and so on. The largest-scale watershed is called a basin. Minnesota has ten basins, some of which include portions of neighboring states or Canada.

There are 81 watersheds in Minnesota, roughly similar in number to the 87 Minnesota counties. Looking at the map, though, one quickly realizes that the natural boundaries of the watershed — which long predate the state’s political boundaries — represent a compelling picture of natural geography.

I live in the Mississippi River-Grand Rapids watershed, which winds through the western Iron Range, Grand Rapids down to Remer. Our rivers flow into the Mississippi, on down to New Orleans, but my “home” watershed also touches the Hill of Three Waters north of Hibbing, where water also flows to Lake Superior and Hudson Bay.

In reviewing all the watersheds of Northern Minnesota one can see how water can be such tricky business in industrial developments such as mining. The “Land of 10,000 Lakes” is a set of dominoes in which clean or dirty water is everyone’s business. If you don’t believe me, just look at the map.

An added factoid from MPCA commissioner John Linc Stine on Twitter this morning:


  1. The MPCA and DNR have designated so many areas either wetlands or watershed that you better check with them before you do anything to land you own. I was informed land we own in Itasca county was considered a wetlands 5 yrs after they designated it as such. I only found out because we were trying to buy the 40 acres from the county that butted up to our land. They told me they were not selling wetland areas and by the way your 120 acres on the west side of your property is now considered a wetlands also. We’ve had that land for 30 yrs and it only holds water for 2 months (April/May) after very snowy winters and is bone dry by mid June every year. I asked to see the report or the DNR agent who decided our land was a wetlands, what I got was a pamphlet telling me all the things I couldn’t do to the land we own instead. Beware of the MPCA and DNR if you own land!!

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