General Info & History

What is a watershed and watershed district?

A watershed is the area within the geographic boundaries of land that drain into a surface water feature such as a stream, river, or lake and contributes to the recharge of groundwater. Watersheds are divided by areas of higher elevation that cause the drainage patterns of surface water within the watershed.

There are 81 major watersheds in Minnesota, some of which overlap into adjoining states. Together, these watersheds make up the State's ten drainage basins. The Sauk River watershed, located in Central Minnesota, is one of 16 major watersheds in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

Because water is continually moving, it is a resource that tends to be more difficult to manage on the basis of linear political boundaries. Municipal and county lines, based on the rectangular grid of original government surveys, are not often well suited for the management of water resources.

In 1955, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Watershed Act in order to better address water-related issues and concerns occurring within the state at the watershed level. Watershed districts are special purpose units of local government that have been created to help prevent and solve water resource problems on a watershed basis. The boundaries of a watershed district generally follow the hydrologic or topographical limits of an area or region. Most often, watersheds are named for the major surface water resource within the watershed. Hence, the name Sauk River Watershed District.

About the Sauk River Watershed District

The Sauk River watershed extends from the Mississippi River near St. Cloud into the eastern portions of Douglas County to within 3 miles of Alexandria. The watershed, like the Sauk River, extends in a northwest to southeast direction. The overall watershed is about 75 miles in length with some areas being up to 20 to 30 miles in width. The Sauk River meanders for 120 miles.

According to data from the Minnesota Land Management Information Center (LMIC), the Sauk River watershed covers over 667,000 acres or approximately 1,041 square miles across portions of five counties. The portions of counties contained within by the watershed include southeastern Douglas County, northeastern Pope County, southwestern Todd County, northern Meeker County, and the center third of Stearns County. (A very small portion of the watershed, 6 acres, overlaps into Morrison County. The table below provides the area distribution of the watershed by county.

Distribution of Watershed Area by County
  Douglas Pope Meeker Stearns Todd Total
Area (Acres) 58,171 30,328 9,883 431,409 137,392 667,183
Area (Sq. Mi.) 90 47 15 674 215 1,041
Watershed (%) 8.9 4.4 1.5 63.6 21.6 100.0

The History of the Sauk River Watershed District

The formation of the Sauk River Watershed District began in September of 1982 when two local civic groups from Richmond and Cold Spring (Lions Clubs) were looking for a public service project in the area dealing with water quality of the area lakes. At an initial meeting of the two groups, approximately 50 people expressed concern over the degraded condition of the area's lakes. Because of concerns expressed by such a large number of people at the meeting, the group felt the matter was beyond the scope of what a civic organization could handle.

On September 30, 1982, a non-profit organization known as the Sauk River Chain of Lakes, Inc. was established to address water quality issues. By March of 1983, a two-year diagnostic lake study, headed by Dr. Keith Knutson, Ph.D. of St. Cloud State University, was underway. At about the same time, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also initiated a similar but less comprehensive study. Both studies were completed early in 1985.

As a result of the studies it became apparent to the Sauk River Lake Chain of Lakes Association, Inc. that any remedial work or additional studies would require a larger financial backing than the members of the association would be able to supply. Consequently, an attorney was contacted to determine the feasibility of forming a watershed district. On January 17, 1986, a petition signed by 400 landowners was filed with the Minnesota Water Resources Board (WRB) for the establishment of the Sauk River Watershed District. Additional petitions were filed on January 21; February 05, 21, and 26, 1986.

Public hearings were held in Cold Spring and Osakis on March 13, 1986 and March 26, 1986, respectively, and the report of the presiding administrative law judge was received by the WRB on May 19, 1986. As a result of the studies, public testimony, and conditions of the water resources, the WRB established the Sauk River Watershed District on July 22, 1986.

Affidavit Establishing the Sauk River Watershed District
Order Amending Boundaries of the Sauk River Watershed District