Mississippi River Headwaters Sustainable Rivers Program

Mississippi River Headwaters

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, and The Nature Conservancy are partnering together to explore opportunities to enhance the habitat and water quality within the Mississippi River Headwaters reservoirs through the Sustainable Rivers Program. The SRP is nation-wide initiative that looks at various watersheds and is focused on enhancing the environment through coordinated reservoir operations modifications.

We are currently looking to gather the communities' input into what can be done to compliment our existing operations and enhance the environment. No changes have been identified nor implemented. Our goal at this point is to develop a broader understanding of our missions within the Headwaters, our reservoir operations and to develop a shared vision of the future with the communities we serve.

Share your ideas
Have an idea or suggestion to enhance the Mississippi Rivers Headwaters reservoirs? Send us an email at MSRiverHeadwaters@usace.army.mil

In Their Own Words: Learn more about the sustainable rivers program and the agencies involved

Harnessing the Headwaters: First Dams on the Mississippi River 
Courtesy of Lakeland PBS

St. Paul District commander provides SRP update

Mississippi River Headwaters Sustainable Rivers Program
Sustainable Rivers Program: The Nature Conservancy, USACE and the Mississippi River Headwaters
A video by The Nature Conservancy
Upper Mississippi River Management: Ecological Issues, Problems and Alternatives. 
A video by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Restoring Natural Flow Regimes in the Manoomin Stronghold: Perspectives from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
A video by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
Mississippi River Headwaters Sustainable Rivers Program public meeting presentation
Video is located on our Facebook page




Our Partners

The Sustainable Rivers Program is a shared-responsibility with many organizations and partners. Here's a list of the partners working together to maintain and enhance the Mississippi River Headwaters reservoirs for generations to come.

The Nature Conservancy

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Integrated Water Resources

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hydrologic Engineering Center

What are the Mississippi River Headwaters?

Starting as a trickle of water at its source in Lake Itasca, north of Park Rapids, Minnesota, the Mississippi River gradually builds steam as it drains more than 41 percent of the continental United States and portions of two Canadian provinces before traveling the 2,318 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Near its source lies a a series of reservoirs that were built more than 100 years ago as a system to reduce flood risks and provide water supply, as needed, to downstream communities. Subsequent authorizations include environmental enhancement and recreation.

The six Corps of Engineers' Mississippi River Headwaters reservoirs include Leech Lake, near Federal Dam, Minnesota; Lake Winnibigoshish, near Deer River, Minnesota; Big Sandy Lake, near McGregor, Minnesota; Cross Lake, near Crosslake, Minnesota; Gull Lake, near Brainerd, Minnesota; and Pokegama Lake, near Grand Rapids, Minnesota. All of them are managed as a system to reduce flood risks to the region.


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 Why does the Corps want to manage water levels for fish and wildlife when the dams were built for flood risk management?

Although flood risk management is an important authorized purpose of the reservoirs, fish and wildlife management, water supply and recreation are other purposes authorized by Congress. The Corps also conducts its activities under our Environmental Operating Principles which were developed to ensure that Corps’ missions include totally integrated sustainable environmental practices.

 How will this proposed project affect the reservoirs’ ability to reduce flood risk?

At this time there are no plans to change reservoir operations. If changes are considered in the future, impacts to flood risk reduction would be prevented or minimized.

 How will this project affect recreation at the Mississippi River Headwaters reservoirs?

At this time there are no plans to change reservoir operation. If changes are considered in the future, impacts to recreation would be evaluated. Recreation in the Headwaters is also dependent on the natural resources in the region. Water levels that improve environmental conditions may improve recreation, even if there are minor impacts to recreational boat access.

 What are the current operating plans for the six reservoirs?

The operating plans have been summarized and can be within the documents section of this webpage.

 Operations for flooding seem to focus on the need to protect the city of Aitkin. Has the Corps considered ways to protect Aitkin that don’t involve reservoir operations?

The Corps has studied other ways to reduce flood damages at Aitkin, but finding acceptable cost-effective solutions is difficult. However, even if a solution for Aitkin was implemented, there are other locations within the system that would require operating the reservoirs for flood risk management.

 How are Tribal interests considered now and in future operating plans?

Tribal interests are very important to the Corps of Engineers and are an important consideration in our daily operations of the reservoirs. Tribal interests are very important for future operational changes as well, which is why we are partnering with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in this new Sustainable Rivers Program initiative.

 If the operating plans were changed, what process would take place to implement those changes, and would the public be involved?

First, the Corps would determine if there is public interest in considering an operation change. Then, a study to develop a new operating plan and evaluate its effects would be conducted. The public would be involved in that process and have multiple opportunities to participate. Only after the conclusion of that process, with full public participation, would any change to operations be made.

Important Documents