The Lower Rainy Watershed straddles the United States-Canadian border and is dominated by the flat, slow-moving and long (130 km/81 miles) Rainy River. Principal industries in the area include forest product harvesting, forest product manufacturing, farming and tourism. Agriculture dominates the landscape on the Canadian side of the watershed with only minor logging and one operating mine (New Gold) north of Emo, ON. The hydroelectric dam at Fort Frances/International Falls is a significant feature within this watershed. Fort Frances, ON and International Falls, MN are the largest communities with smaller villages and a number of First Nation communities throughout.
On the U.S. side, much of the land in the watershed is not suited or is poorly suited to agricultural uses. Wetlands predominate (48%), followed by forest (32%), grass/pasture/hay (9%), and row crops (7%). Development pressure is moderate, with occasional lands being parceled out for timber production or recreational use. On the Canadian side, this watershed is the only one in the larger basin that is not shield-dominated; there are no large lakes.
The main resource concerns in the U.S. portion of the watershed are management of excessive wetness, wetland and woodland management, pasture management, and surface water quality. The watershed underwent Intensive Watershed Monitoring in 2017 and 2018, with 15 stream reaches being sampled by MPCA and local partners. In general, water quality conditions within the Lower Rainy River watershed is good; 80% of the stream reaches successfully sampled within the Lower Rainy River Watershed were found to be fully supporting aquatic life.
The WRAP Strategy is slated for 2021 – restoration and protection strategies should be developed to both improve the condition of degraded resources and ensure that unimpaired waters remain in good condition. For more information, click on: https://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/watersheds/lower-rainy-river#overview.
The Lower Rainy watershed is the most unique of the sub basins on the Ontario side of the border. Unlike the lake and bedrock/shallow soil dominated landscape of the other watersheds, the Lower Rainy has deep clay soils and only a few scattered small shallow lakes and numerous small streams. Because of the lack of lakes, there is no water quality data collected through Ontario’s Broadscale Monitoring program. The Rainy River has had high levels of phosphorus in the past although the inputs have been reduced and water quality in the Rainy River has improved over the past 50 years.