The deterioration of water quality in the U.S. portion of the Red River is taking a toll on Lake Winnipeg as well as fish and aquatic insects downstream from the Red’s headwaters, according to a new report released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The study looked at fish and insect communities in the Red River near Breckenridge, MN north to the Canadian border.

It found there is too much sediment in places due to increased runoff which can make it more difficult for fish to find food, detect predators and reproduce.

“Climate changes have led to more rain and more storms,” the report states. “More drainage, through ditches and more recently subsurface tiling, brings much more water into the Red River.”

“Drainage increases the peak flows and intensifies the low flows. These fluctuations are hard on fish and other aquatic life. Generally speaking, fish and aquatic insect communities are doing reasonably well, but decline as you go downstream.”

The report says phosphorus levels are also having an effect on downstream waters and nitrogen levels are increasing.

All of this is bad news for Lake Winnipeg — that’s where the river flows and the study acknowledges high nutrient levels on the U.S. portion of the Red River are fuelling the lake’s algae problems.

“While the river itself is often too cloudy for algae to grow, downstream Lake Winnipeg is suffering.”

Researchers say work is ongoing to improve water quality. Solutions identified include implementing additional practices and projects to help reduce peak flows during spring runoff and heavy rains and increase base flows during dry periods.

The report says landowners, watershed districts and others have been working toward these goals but more needs to be done to keep farmlands highly productive while improving and protecting water quality.

Read the full report: