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Red River Watershed

Red River in Fargo, North Dakota

I recently happened upon the above map of the Red River Watershed. I suspect that the watershed is much larger than most of us would think.

We often think we are leaving the Red River Valley or glacial Lake Agassiz behind when, for example, we travel through the old beachlines of glacial Lake Agassiz east of Dilworth on Highway 10, or west of Grand Forks on Highway 2. But the Red River watershed extends well beyond the old beachlines of glacial Lake Agassiz.

The Red River begins near Wahpeton/Breckenridge with the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers. It flows northward, through glacial Lake Agassiz, for around 450 miles before emptying into Lake Winnipeg. The drop in elevation through the state is only about 200 feet. It is interesting to note that the lowest elevation in North Dakota is a meager 740 feet above sea level where the Red River flows into Canada.

The Red River watershed consists of over 40,000 square miles and encompasses parts of northeastern South Dakota, Eastern North Dakota, Northwestern Minnesota, and southern Manitoba.

As you might expect with a river that flows from the United States into Canada, management of the river involves both American and Canadian entities. deals with disputes over waters shared between the two countries.

  • The Boundary Waters Treaty deals with disputes over waters shared between the two countries.
  • The International Red River Board keeps the International Joint Commission informed of basin activities that affect transboundary river flows, water quality, and ecosystem health in the Red River and its tributaries.
  • Some of you may recall issues concerning biota transfer associated with the Northwest Area Water Supply Project.
Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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