region K Area 57 larger picture

Northern Minnesota Gray Drift

Western Lake Section of the Central Lowland Province of the Interior Plains.

Total Land Area 9,785 square miles (25,355 square kilometers)

Located entirely within the state of Minnesota.

Towns/cities include:
Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, Grand Rapids and Walker in northern area.
Albany, Sauk Center, and Browerville in southern part

Indian Reservations include parts of Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake.


Landscape developed via a series of glaciations and retreating/wasting of the ice sheets. Resulting in a complex pattern of morains, outwash plains, drumlins, lake plains and drainages characterize the area.

Wisconsin-age glacial drift covers entire area. Glacial deposits from four major ice lobes:

  • Des Moines
  • Rainy
  • Superior
  • Wadena

Thickness of glacial till ranges from 300-600 feet (90 to 185 meters). Some deposits have outwash or lacustrine sediment overlays. Depressional areas can have accumulations of organic matter that can be more than 8 feet (2.5 meters) thick.

Topography -

Elevation is around 985 to 1,640 feet (300 - 500 meters). Typical relief is 15 - 50 feet (5 to 15 meters) within short distances.


Average precipitation ranges from 26 - 34 inches (660 to 865 millimeters). Most precipitation occurs in spring and summer.

Average annual temp ranges from 39 - 44 degrees F (4-7 degrees celsius).

Freeze free period ranges from 120 days in north to 175 days in south. Cold winters and significant snows can accumulate.

Major Hydrologic Unit Areas

Name Code Extent*
Mississippi Headwaters (0701) 67%
Red (0902) 22%
Rainy (0903) 10%
Western Lake Superior (0401) 1%

* this is the percent of area drained by each named hydrologic unit

This area is located in a watershed divide in N. America.

Surface waters in most of northern and western parts drain into Red River and eventually enter Hudson Bay. Most of area total drained by the Mississippi River (and tributaries).


Estimated withdrawls in this MLRA:
Public supply surface water 7% ground water 4.5%
Livestock surface water 1.5% ground water 4.1%
Irrigation surface water 7.8% ground water 28.1%
Other surface water 46.9% ground water 0

Total daily withdrawls average 64 million gallon (240 million liters)
37% from ground water.
63% from surface water.

Area has abundant supplies of both surface and ground water that meets all area needs. Surface water quality generally good and its use is not limited. Abundant supply of good-quality ground water are in both surficial and buried drift aquifers throught area.

Water from aquifers is a calcium-magnesium -bicarbonate type that is hard. Median concentrations of total dissolved solids are around 350 ppm (milligrams per liter) in surficial drift aquifer and 450 ppm in the buried drift aquifer. Nitrate concentrations can approach 10 ppm in the surfical drift aquifer.

Glacial till generally caps the buried drift aquifer and results in more protection from surface contaminate activities. The deeper aquifer has very high levels of iron.


  • Frigid soil temperature regime.
  • Aquic or udic soil moisture regime.
  • Mixed or smectitic mineralogy.
  • Generally sandy to loamy and very deep.
  • Dominant Soils:

  • Alfisols
  • Entisols.
  • Histosols
  • Some Mollisols in western most part of this region.
  • Great Group Series Location
    Endoaqualfs - Effie, Talmoon and Willosippi series formed in till on moraines
    Epiaqualfs - Nokay, paddock and Watab series and
    Glossudalfs Blowers, Sol and Sternboat series formed in till on drumlins and moraines
    Hapludalfs - Beltrami, Mahkonce, Naytahwaush, Nebish, Snellman, Sugarbush, Suomi, Two Inlets and Waukon series formed in till or outwash moraines
    Udipsamments Eagleview, Graycalm, and Nymore series formed in outwash on moraines
    Haplosaprists Cathro and Markey series formed in organic material over outwash or till on moraines
    Haplohemists Rifle series and
    Haplosaprists Seelyeville series formed in thick layer of organic material on moraines

    Fauna and Flora

    Pre settlement conditions:

    Mainly a mix of deciduous and conifer trees. White pine and Red pine grew on moraines. Jack pine on outwash and sandy lake plains. Red oak, sugar maple, and basswood in sheltered areas close to lakes. Forested lowlands dominated by black spruce, tamarack, white cedar and black ash.

    Open wetlands dominated by sedge meadow communities.
    Western part of area tall grass prairie.

    Currently, Aspen is most common tree species in both pure stands and mixed stands of birch, maple, oak, white spruce and red pine.

    Major wildlife species includes (but not limited to) white-tailed deer, black bear, ruffed grouse, and sharp-tailed grouse. This MLRA supports a high percentage of the rare plants and animals that occur in Minnesota, including the Timber wolf.

    Land Use

    16% - Cropland - private
    8% - Grassland - private
    1% - - Federal
    51% - Forest - private
    8% - - Federal
    3% - Urban development - private
    8% - Water - private
    5% - Other - private

    25% Farms - mainly for forage and feed grain for livestock. Livestock operations in scattered areas. Sunflower, wheat, soybeans and other cash crops grown on some western area farms.

    60% Forested - Part of forest land is in State and National forests. Hardwood forest types in most of area. Aspen is dominant species and used in chipboard and pulp production. Softwood species (fir, pine and spruce) used for pulp.

    Resource concerns include poor soil drainage affecting crop production, poor grazing management in forest and grassland, water and wind erosion and water quality.

    Conservation practices on cropland generally include crop residue management and conservation crop rotations which help control water erosion and wind erosion. Drainage ditches are used to improve drainage. Filter strips installed along drainage ditches and streams to preserve water quality. Prescribed grazing systems improve grazing management and remove livestock from forested areas. Exclusion from use as needed, forest stand improvement, riparian forest buffers and establishment of trees/shrubs restore damaged forests and improve water quality. Field windbreaks reduce wind erosion and improve crop productions.

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