Tribal Partnership Program: Red Lake Fish Passage & Wetland Restoration, Red Lake River, Minnesota

U.S. Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District
Published Sept. 27, 2021
Updated: April 9, 2024


The study will address the degradation of culturally significant habitat faced by the Red Lake Nation on their tribal lands along the Red Lake River and the Zah Gheeng Marsh. The study will assess and make recommendations related to fish passage through a low-head dam and wetland restoration opportunities along the Red Lake River.


The Red Lake River is the only outlet to Lower Red Lake, which is completely within the boundaries of the Red Lake Nation in Red Lake, Minnesota. The Zah Gheeng Marsh is adjacent to the Red Lake River, immediately downstream of Lower Red Lake. The Red Lake River is a tributary to the Red River of the North.


The Red Lake dam was constructed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1931; and the operations and maintenance was transferred to the Corps under the Flood Control Act of 1944.  Under the authorization agreements, Corps immediately modified the outlet channel through the Zah Gheeng to increase the discharge capacity and improve ability to regulate the lake levels, but this led to drainage of the marsh.  Inlet/outlet structures were added in 1967 to flood the Zah Gheeng, but this created a shallow lake with degrading habitat rather than re-establishing the riverine floodplain. A downstream low-head dam was also added to inundate additional marsh downstream of the Zah Gheeng. The historic Zah Gheeng provided much more productive habitat for waterfowl and fur-bearing mammals, especially muskrats. The dam also blocked fish passage between the lake and spawning habitat of the river, so a fish passage structure was added in 2011. The purpose of the feasibility study is to examine the hydrologic restoration of marsh lands to historic productivity, and also reassess the fish passage efficacy.


A feasibility cost-share agreement between the Corps and the Red Lake Nation was signed on June 16, 2021. Federal funding for the study has been provided and the study began in July 2021. The study includes gathering information, formulating alternatives, analyzing costs, benefits and environmental impacts, and recommending a tentative plan on how to address hydrologic restoration and fish passage. A draft feasibility study report with integrated environmental assessment will be prepared and coordinated with the Red Lake Nation Tribal Council in late 2024, followed by a public review. The report will be finalized in early 2025.


The Tribal Partnership Program (TPP) is authorized by Section 203 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (Public Law 106‒541). The TPP provides authority for the Corps to work with Indian nations to study and determine the feasibility of carrying out projects that will substantially benefit Indian nations.


Feasibility Study                                            $700,000

The shared study costs are estimated to be $700,000 with the federal share to be $675,375 and the non-federal sponsor’s share projected to be $23,625. Tribal Partnership Program feasibility studies qualify for a waiver ($511,000), and the Tribal share is based on an ability to pay formula.