County Geologic Atlas Program

Springs and Karst

About Springs

A spring is a focused, natural discharge where water emerges from the ground.

Springs are natural points of groundwater discharge. Springs provide flow for coldwater streams (trout streams) and cool water fisheries. In addition, some streams need the water flow that springs provide during dry periods. Other important functions include sustaining unique ecological habitats along with their associated plants and animal communities. Finally, springs have their own aesthetic and historical value that creates a special “sense of place” for local residents and visitors. Preserving springs contributes to a love of the land and an environmental ethic that helps create a Minnesota quality of life.

Spring flow and characteristic spring habitats can be threatened if we aren’t careful about managing our water resources. We can’t protect these features if there is no public or government awareness of their existence.

About Karst

Karst: A terrain with distinctive landforms and hydrology created primarily from the dissolution of soluble rocks. It is characterized by sinkholes, caves, springs, and underground drainage dominated by rapid conduit flow.

In karst, fractures and joints in the bedrock are enlarged by dissolution. These solutionally enlarged features form a network of underground conduits that can carry groundwater very rapidly (speeds up to miles per day). The landscape above the karst in some areas of the state is an expression of the underlying karst drainage system. In those areas, sinkholes, blind valleys, karst windows and springs are found on the land surface. Karst also occurs in areas with few or none of these land surface features.

Inventorying Minnesota Springs

The Minnesota Spring Inventory (MSI) project brings together fragmented groundwater spring data by providing a single spatial database for the entire state, and will add new (previously undocumented) springs from field analysis and citizen input. The MSI includes a web application for citizens to submit spring locations and shares data with the public through a map application.

The DNR is currently only aware of approximately 3,000 of the possible 22,000 springs statewide from various agency records and searching public lands. The database will contain both reported and verified spring location information and physical, chemical, and historical data for spring sites, if available. The MSI will facilitate cross-agency cooperation to manage and protect Minnesota’s groundwater resources and provide a standardized structure to store data long-term.

Help us find Minnesota Springs!

We need the help of private citizens to expand on our current knowledge. If you know of springs please let us know. The citizen Minnesota Spring Inventory Reporting App allows you to report locations from your mobile device or home computer. Spring locations will be available on a Spring Inventory Map after verification by the DNR.

This project is funded by the Legislative Citizens Commission for Minnesota Resources.

Mapping Springsheds and Karst

Springsheds: areas within groundwater and surface water basins that contribute to springs.

Springshed Assessment Methods for Paleozoic Bedrock Springs of Southeastern Minnesota

The UMN, the DNR, and a group of experienced local cavers have been actively working on mapping springsheds in southeastern Minnesota for several decades. This work has been compiled into the following report, a summary of the hydrology and spring characteristics of the conduit-flow dominated bedrock units in southeast Minnesota (2014).

  1. Report of Methods PDF icon (6 MB)
  2. Springshed Map PDF icon (6 MB)

Innovative Springshed Mapping for Trout Stream Management

The UMN and the DNR identified and mapped karst springs and their recharge areas that supply water to southeastern Minnesota's trout streams, and assessed the impacts of both land and aquatic development on springs (2007).

  1. Final Report PDF icon 
  2. LCCMR M.L. 2007 springshed project link
  3. Project definition, scope, and publication links to dye trace reports

For more information contact:

Jeff Green, Hydrogeologist, Southeast Minnesota Special Projects - Karst

Minnesota Regions Prone to Surface Karst Feature Development: GW-01

This information depicts areas prone to the development of karst features within 50 feet of the surface. GIS data can be used alone or in conjunction with the Minnesota Karst Features Database.

Mapping Subterranean Waters

Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article by Michael A. Kallok.
A seven-year project to learn more about southeastern Minnesota's hydrology brings new awareness to the interconnectedness of land and water.