Protecting Water in the Red River: There’s a Map for That

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A new, interactive tool can help managers make critical water-quality decisions in the Red River Basin of the United States and Canada.

A new, interactive tool can help managers make critical water-quality decisions in the Red River Basin of the United States and Canada.

The Red River Water-Quality Statistical Summary Story Map, developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, the International Joint Commission and partners, provides information about levels of nutrients and other water-quality indicators in the basin’s surface water that could have adverse effects on the environment and human health. Scientists collected water-quality data since 2003 from 90 sampling sites throughout North Dakota and Minnesota in the U.S., and Manitoba in Canada, and developed a platform for managers and the public to easily access these data.

“Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are a major concern in the Red River Basin, especially in Lake Winnipeg,” said USGS scientist Rochelle Nustad. “By partnering with agencies throughout the basin, we were able to develop an extensive compilation of nutrient level information to help monitor and protect water resources in the region.”

The Story Map presents annually-updated information on water-quality indicators such as:

  • Total phosphorus and total nitrogen, which, at high concentrations, can cause excessive algal growth;
  • Sulfate, which, at high concentrations, can negatively affect native plants and cause health issues;
  • Total dissolved solids, or the amount of minerals, salts, metals and other components that are dissolved in water, which can signal the presence of toxic materials and excessive salts;
  • Specific conductance, or the ability of water to conduct an electrical current, which is an indicator of total dissolved solids; and
  • Total suspended solids, or particles that are suspended in water, which can signify soil erosion.

This information is available in one-year, five-year and 10-year increments for each sampling site. For comparison, the map also provides historical data from 2003 to the most recent year of available data.

“Understanding the facts makes it easier to achieve cooperative solutions to complex problems such as managing nutrient pollution,” said IJC U.S. Section Chair Lana Pollack. “A geographic display of information can be a powerful aid to understanding the facts.”

The Story Map was developed collaboratively by the USGS, the IJC of the U.S. and Canada, the North Dakota Department of Health, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship.

For more information about water resources in the Red River Basin, please visit the USGS North Dakota Water Science Center or the IJC websites.