In this collection you will find resources, reports, plans, surveys and data about the Cannon River Watershed.  While we are constantly updating these pages, we also provide historic information and documents to assist academic researchers and others interested in how things have changed.  In case you cannot find what you are looking for, please contact us:

Phone: (507) 786-3913


What exactly is a “watershed?”

A watershed is the land area that drains water to a body of water such as a stream, river or lake. It is a land feature that can be identified by tracing a line along the highest elevations between two areas on a map, often a ridge.  A watershed is like a funnel – collecting all the water within the drainage area and channeling it into a water body.

The two main rivers in the Cannon River watershed are the Cannon and Straight Rivers. The Cannon River (130 miles long) originates in Shields Lake and flows west before turning south. The river turns again east as it goes through Waterville, MN and continues on to Faribault, MN where the Straight River (65 miles long) drains into it. The Straight River begins in Oak Glen Lake south of Owatonna, MN. It flows directly north before it dumps into the Cannon River. From Faribault, the Cannon flows north through Northfield, MN and finally turns west. As it travels through the Byllesby Resevoir and Cannon Falls, MN, the Cannon finally drains to the Mississippi River just north of Red Wing, MN.

The Cannon River watershed covers 946,440 acres and includes parts of six counties – Dakota, Goodhue, Le Sueur, Rice, Steele, and Waseca.

 watershed map

More information on the Cannon River Watershed can be found on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website.

More Helpful Links

To help you explore the Cannon River watershed we’ve pulled together the following links to information regarding rivers, lakes, fishing, parks, and outfitters.  Can’t find what you’re looking for? Give us a call at (507) 786-3913.

NOTE:  The links below will take you off the CRWP website.

State Water Trails   – Information about river levels, rapids, trip planning, recommended reading, outfitters and more!

Virtual Tour of the some parts of the Cannon River

Our two favorite State Water Trails

Canoe/Kayak Rental

River Water Levels

Lake Information

State Parks

County Parks

Bike Trails

Clean Water Progress

In the news you hear a lot about all of the pollution problems we have in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and those are real problems. But what you don’t hear about as much are the successes that nonprofits (like the Cannon River Watershed Partnership), cities (like Northfield and Faribault) and county and state agencies (like Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) are having as they work to clean up and protect the rivers, lakes, and drinking water that we depend on for swimming, fishing, boating, and drinking.

Overall, the Cannon River Watershed is a healthy watershed with some room for clean water improvement. Those improvements will make the area even better for the familes and businesses that live, work, and recreate in the region.

“With one of Minnesota’s seven Wild and Scenic Rivers, the Cannon River watershed (CRW) in southeast Minnesota drains 946,440 diverse acres before emptying into the Mississippi. Healthy aquatic dynamics, declining phosphorus and sediment loads and robust community support for clean water and a healthy watershed characterize the CRW today. Of the 125 DNR biological sites, 80% rate good with over 47 fish species while 61 sites show 1,344 live mussels representing 15 species. In the last fifteen years, three dams have been removed and today, 38,923 acres are permanently protected. Investments in waste water treatment, increases in perennial vegetative cover and watershed-wide community engagement secure the CRW’s health now and for the future.”

–A Statement on the Health of the Cannon River Watershed by CRWP Conservation Manager Alan Kraus, 2018


Cover crops, like this annual ryegrass, keep soil covered and captures nitrogen fertilizer before it can run off into rivers and lakes or leach into groundwater. CRWP has been working with farmers to get more acres of cover crops on the ground in the region.

Below are two pdf reports that show signs of clean water progress.

Signs of Progress click here for a pdf of our 2011 review of how CRWP and other groups are succeeding in cleaning up our rivers, lakes, and drinking water in the Cannon River Watershed.

Water Quality Trends for Minnesota Rivers and Lakes click here for a pdf of a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report on the long-term trends on the major rivers and lakes in Minnesota. In most cases, sedimentation and phosphorus pollution is decreasing in area rivers while nitrogen pollution is increasing.


The following are the Water Quality Concerns we focus on at CRWP.


Water Quality Concerns

Muddy Rivers and Streams  

The confluence of Wolf Creek and the Cannon River after an August storm.

Elevated sediment (suspended soil particles) has many impacts. It makes rivers look muddy, greatly reducing their appeal for people who enjoy boating, fishing, or swimming. Sediment carries nutrients, pesticides, and other chemicals into the river that impact fish and wildlife species. Fine-grained sediments settle on stream beds over desirable rock and gravel that form essential habitats for invertebrates and fish. Turbidity refers to how clear the water is. The greater the amount of sediment in the water, the murkier it appears and the higher the measured turbidity.

Sediment Sources

Sediment is carried to the streams many ways such as over natural areas, farm fields, urban lots, and city streets.  It also is scoured from the stream banks themselves during snow melt, rain events, and from flooding.


Field with residue vs plowed - where does more sediment come from?
Field with residue vs plowed – where does more sediment come from?

Green Lakes

Excessive amounts of nutrients, namely phosphorus, create a constant algae presence in the majority of area lakes. Phosphorus-enriched streams and lakes are commonplace in the Cannon River Watershed.

Phosphorus is an important nutrient for plant growth.  But excessive algae growth, death, and decay can severely deplete the oxygen supply in the river, endangering fish and other forms of aquatic life.  Large total phosphorus loads can have major impacts both locally and on lakes the Cannon and Straight flow into, such as Lake Byllesby and Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River.

Phosphorus Sources

Point-source phosphorus comes mainly from municipal and industrial discharges to surface waters. Nonpoint-source phosphorus comes from runoff from agricultural lands,urban areas, construction sites, manure transported in runoff, from feedlots and agricultural fields, and human waste from noncompliant septic systems.

Unsafe Swimming and Recreation

Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are a large and diverse group of bacteria. E. coli is a type of fecal coliform bacteria which are associated with human or animal wastes. They are commonly found in the intestines of animals and humans.

The presence of indicator bacteria (E.coli and fecal coliform) indicate sewage or animal
waste contamination and potential presence of disease-causing organisms. E. coli and
Fecal Coliform bacteria are used as markers for water contamination. There are hundreds
of strains of the bacterium E. coli and most strains are harmless and live in the intestines
of healthy humans and animals. However, others can make you sick. Some kinds of E.
coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and
pneumonia, and other illnesses.

Sources of E. coli

Fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria found in rivers and streams comes from human,
livestock, pet, and wildlife waste. Bacteria can be directly transferred to surface waters
from noncompliant septic systems, wastewater treatment plants and urban stormwater
systems. Other sources include spills or runoff from feedlots or manure storage facilities,
runoff from agricultural lands that receive manure applications, and direct deposition into
waterways by wildlife or grazing animals.


Urban Stormwater

What is urban stormwater?


Urban stormwater is the runoff from rain or snowmelt that isn’t absorbed by the natural ground cover. Instead, it runs off an urban property directly into a water body or into storm drains. Most storm sewers are directly connected to rivers and lakes – and all of that untreated water ends up in our water bodies. Urban areas have an increased amount of runoff due to the amount of impervious surfaces (like roads, parking lots, streets, and other forms of pavement).

Why is it a problem?

When water runs off an urban property and washes into the street, along the way it picks up a myriad of pollutants. These pollutants may be trash, motor oil, toxic chemicals, and dog feces, as well as grass clippings and leaves, which add phosphorus to the water. It then flows into the nearest storm drain and is dumped into a lake or river. This impairs water quality and causes excessive algae growth in the summer months.

Addressing Urban Stormwater in the Cannon River Watershed:

Many of the streams, rivers and lakes in the Cannon River Watershed are not meeting state standards for aquatic recreation (human use) and aquatic life (wildlife use). Because of these types of pollution, our water becomes less fishable, swimmable, and drinkable. This pollution also adds to the problems in Lake Pepin, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

We want to educate urban residents in our watershed about runoff. Take action and be the solution to stormwater pollution! Together we can reach the goal of reducing these pollutants and having cleaner water.

Explore the links below to see what is going on in your area!


Faribault city logo



Helping Communities With Wastewater

Video highlighting King’s Park Sewer Project:

A four video series showcasing some of CRWP’s wastewater accomplishments:


Reports & Publications

Here you’ll find lots of data and reports on research relevant to the Cannon River Watershed. Have a look around and let us know what you think!

Cannon River Watershed Partnership Reports

2018 CRWP Annual Impact Report

2019 CRWP Annual Impact Report

Guide Star Financial Reporting Information (990 Tax Forms) (this link leaves CRWP website)


Watershed Strategy

In partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and many local partners, CRWP has developed the Cannon River Watershed Management Strategy. The strategy brings together what we know about the watershed’s many lakes and rivers; and the existing plans and priorities of local government units and state agencies to create an overarching strategy for the entire watershed. The strategy was submitted to the MPCA on June 30, 2011.

As a more citizen friendly document CRWP with assistance from Minnesota State University Mankato Water Resources Center developed the Signs of Progress: The Status of the Cannon and Straight Rivers. This report highlights which streams and lakes are improving, which aren’t, and other signs of progress across the Cannon River watershed.

Cannon River Watershed Management Strategy (2011)

  1. Cover and Table of Contents
  2. Introduction
  3. Cannon River Watershed Overview
  4. Cannon River Statistical Executive Summary
  5. Pollutants of Concern and Stressors
  6. Management Strategies Overview
  7. Priority Management Zones
  8. Civic Engagement
  9. Upper Cannon Lobe Monitoring and Management Strategy
  10. Straight River Lobe Management and Monitoring Strategy
  11. Middle Cannon River Lobe Management and Monitoring Strategy
  12. Lower Cannon River Lobe Management and Monitoring Strategy

Download a copy of the full draft management strategy: Full Management Strategy.


  1. Signs of Progress: The Status of the Cannon and Straight Rivers
  2. MPCA Watershed Approach to Condition Monitoring and Assessment
  3. Cannon River Watershed Statistical Water Quality Trend Analysis
  4. Water Monitoring Work in the Cannon River Watershed through 2010
  5. Summaries of Lake and Stream Monitoring Data in the Cannon River watershed
  6. Upper Cannon River Lobe List of Assets Summary Table
  7. Straight River Lobe List of Assets Summary Table
  8. Middle Cannon River Lobe List of Assets Summary Table
  9. Lower Cannon River Lobe List of Assets Summary Table
  10. Cannon River Watershed NPDES and SDS Permits

Watershed Data and Reports

A collection of information about the Cannon River Watershed including data, reports, assessments and surveys about water quality, aquatic vegetation, fish, and more.  Monitoring is ongoing in the watershed, however, this collection of resources may become out-dated from time to time.  For more recent water quality data collected in the Cannon River Watershed or for data from other watersheds in Minnesota, check out the State of Minnesota Key Water Information (KWI) Catalogue , which lists sites to find water quality data at each of the six state agencies that collect and report on water monitoring data.

Organized by Type and Year: Watershed-wide Reports |  Water Quality Data | Lake Assessment Reports | Lake Vegetation Surveys | Fish Surveys in Lakes | Rivers and Streams

Watershed-Wide Reports

Water Quality Data


Surface Water Assessment Grant Reports – The following reports summarize data collected during a three-year Surface Water Assessment Grant (SWAG).  CRWP assisted the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in assessment of lake and stream water quality in the Cannon River Watershed. For this type of assessment, a thorough suite of measurements were made including chemical and biological parameters which were then used to determine if a water body was meeting its designated use. Those that did not meet their designated uses were listed on the Impaired Waters list for the parameter which needed improvement. Many lakes, streams, and rivers in this watershed were impaired for nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), sediment, and bacteria.

SWAG Executive Summary (pdf) – Executive summary of Surface Water Assessment results

Site Reports – A series of 1-2 page overviews of the findings at each site, organized alphabetically.

2007 – 2010

Upper Cannon Watershed Assessment Project Diagnostic Report 2010 – Assessment of Upper Cannon River for water quality, flow, and pollutants by Le Sueuer County.




Geomorphology and Water Quality of Wolf Creek (pdf) – Studies of geomorphology and water quality in Wolf and Rice Creeks by a team of faculty from multiple colleges (2000).


Water Quality Report  – “Assessment of water quality in streams of the Cannon River Basin” – A study of water quality by a team of authors from St. Olaf College, Northfield Middle School, Environmental Protection Agency, and CRWP.


Water Quality Evaluation in Rice County 1986 (pdf) – Evaluation of surface water quality in Rice County between 1972 and 1986 commissioned by the Rice County Board of Commissioners.  Includes 11 lakes, the Cannon River, and Straight River.


Freshwater Mussels of the Cannon River Drainage_Davis_1987 – Mussels in the Cannon River Watershed by Mike Davis of Minnesota DNR (1987).


Water Quality Evaluation in Rice County 1972 (pdf) – A study by National Biocentric, Inc. of lakes in Rice County (1972).


Lake Assessment Reports

MPCA Lake Assessments

Additional Lake Assessments



  • Cannon Lakes TMDL Summary (pdf) – A report by Joe Pallardy, Mankato State University, summarizing the results of TMDL studies of lakes in the Cannon River Watershed (2008).
  • Upper Cannon Lakes Assessment 2007 (pdf) – Lake monitoring results from 8 lakes by Steve McComas, Blue Water Science.  A report prepared for Le Sueur County (2008).



Lake Vegetation Surveys




Fish Surveys in Lakes






Rivers and Streams

Assessments of water quality in rivers and streams within the watershed.

Cannon River

Rice Creek

Belle Creek

Little Cannon

Trout Brook

Chub Creek

Prairie Creek

Pine Creek



MPCA Lake Assessments:

Lake Vegetation Surveys:

DNR Fish Surveys

Other Reports:



Cannon River Reports:

Rice Creek Reports:

Belle Creek Reports

Little Cannon River

Trout Brook

Other Tributaries


Other Research and Reports

Recently released: Implementing Minnesota’s New Buffer Initiative

A helpful handbook from our friends at the Freshwater Society:

Advice From the Field: Preparing for County-Level Buffer Work



Cannon River Watershed  – Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS)

The Cannon River Watershed WRAPS has been approved as of 10/20/16! Thanks to all our neighbors who participated, attended meetings and gave feedback.


Fact Sheets

Fact Sheet_Cannon_MonitorAssessSummary


Web Sites

Cannon River Watershed Management Strategy (2011)  (CRWP Website)

Cannon River Watershed Page  (MPCA Website)

Watershed Approach  (MPCA Website)

Cannon River Watershed Stressor Identification Report – October 2015  (MPCA Website)

Nutrient BMP Tool (University of Minnesota Website)