River Ecology Unit

The River Ecology Unit gathers and provides information on Minnesota's 90,000 miles of rivers and streams, helping to protect and restore them. These waterways provide enormous benefits, including recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, and economic and ecological functions for the state's citizens. Over the past century, however, urbanization and changes in land use have degraded many Minnesota rivers. Ditching, damming, straightening, polluting, dredging, and removing vegetation from river banks are just some of the examples of actions that have harmed Minnesota's rivers.

One of the primary objectives of the Program is to ensure that an adequate amount of water is flowing in rivers and streams throughout the year to protect fish and wildlife. This is done by studying rivers in each of the state's 81 major watersheds to determine how much water these ecosystems need to be healthy. This information is provided to municipalities, public and private planners, state and federal natural resource agencies, and citizens so they can make informed decisions to protect the river ecosystem. In conjunction with natural flow regimes, healthy rivers have stable banks, high water quality, natural shapes, variation in depths, water velocities, streambed substrates, and types of cover, connectivity to other water bodies, and healthy floodplains. When combined, these factors create diverse habitats, which in turn encourage diverse fish, amphibian, mussel, invertebrate, and plant communities to thrive in Minnesota's rivers. The River Ecology Unit collects and evaluates fish and other animals to determine what habitat types each species prefers.

The River Ecology Unit is also actively involved in restoring degraded stream channels. Restoration projects that the Program has worked on include the removal or modification of dams on the Pomme de Terre River in Appleton and on the Red River of the North in Fargo/Moorhead. These projects restored the connectivity of the streams, making it possible for fish to migrate upstream and people to canoe downstream. Another example is a four-mile stretch of the Whitewater River in southeastern Minnesota: many years ago, this segment of the river was turned into a straight ditch, and recently the Program was involved in restoring it to a meandering stream with diverse habitats in which fish and other aquatic organisms can thrive.


Are you interested in attending a workshop about streams? Workshops are offered based on the number of requests.


We recently examined Minnesota’s streamflow and found that, throughout the state, our streams are flowing higher and floods are bigger. These changes are the result of climate change and land use change.

A recent study evaluating the effects of barrier dams on fish communities found that the fish community was greatly impacted by barrier dams - an average of 41% of the fish community was absent upstream of 19 complete barrier dams.



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