region K Area 57 larger picture

Northern Minnesota Glacial Lake Basins

Most of area is in the Western Lake Section of the Central Lowland Province of the Interior Plains. Eastern one-eighth of area is in the Superior Upland Province of the Laurentian Upland.

Total Land Area 11,695 square miles (30,300 square kilometers)

Located entirely within the state of Minnesota.

Towns/cities include:
International Falls, Little Fork, Warroad in northern part
Floodwood, and McGregor in southern part.

Indian Reservations include Big Bog and Nett Lake, part of Leech Lake and most of Red Lake.


This area is in the glacial lakebeds of Agassiz, Upham and Aitkin. The glacial lake plains have remmants of gravelly beaches, strandlines, deltas and sandbars. Mostly level or nearly level plains bordered by some sloping strandlines and rolling dune land.

The surface is covered mostly by silty and clayey lacustrine sediments and lake-modified glacial till. Crystalline metamorphic rocks underlie glacial deposits.

Topography -

Elevation is 1,350 feet (410 meters) decreaseing gradually to 900 feet (275 meters) in the north.


Average annual precipitation is 20 - 29 inches (510 - 735 millimeters)
68% rain (may thru september)
20% snow

Average annual temperature is 36 - 41 degrees F (2 - 5 degrees C.)

Freeze-free period averages around 135 days (range 115 to 150 days)

Major Hydrologic Unit Areas

Name Code Extent*
Rainy (0903) 48%
Red (0902) 24%
Western Lake Superior (0401) 14%
Mississippi Headwaters (0701) 14%

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

Most of area was inundated by glacial Lake Agassiz. General slope and drainage is towards the Rainy River and into Hudson Bay. The divide between the Rainy and Red River drainage basins lies in this area.

Clearwater, Moose, Red Lake and Roseau Rivers drain southwest part of area and eventually into Red River then Hudson Bay.

Drainage of glacial Lake Upham basin is to east to Lake Superior. The St. Louis, Whiteface, Swan, and Savanna Rivers drain this basin.
Drainage of glacial Lake Aitkin basin is to the south via Mississippi River.


Estimated withdrawls in this MLRA:
Public supply surface water 0 ground water 80%
Livestock surface water 6.7% ground water 13.3%
Irrigation surface water 0 ground water 0
Other surface water 0 ground water 0

Total Daily withdrawls average 1.5 million gallons per day (5.5 million liters).
93% from ground water.
7% 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.

Domestic use groundwater in southeastern part of MLRA is obtained from Proterozoic Metasedimentary aquifer. This aquifer consists of argillite, slate and metagraywacke and has calcium-magnesium-bicarbonate type water. This water has median level of total dissolved solids around 250 ppm (milligrams per liter). This aquifer has the best quality water of all the crystalline rock aquifers in Minnesota.


  • Frigid soil temperature regime.
  • Aquic or udic soil moisture regime.
  • Mixed or smectitic, or isotic mineralogy.
  • Generally sandy to loamy and very deep.
  • Dominantly somewhat poorly drained to very poorly drained.
  • Dominant Soils:

  • Alfisols
  • Entisols.
  • Histosols
  • Extensive areas of organic soils.
  • Organic soils in Agassi Basin somewhat lower on landscape than surrounding mineral soils. Large areas of organic soils in Upham and Aitkin Basins typically, slightly domed and higher on landscape than surrounding mineral soils.

    Great Group Series Location
    Aqualfs - Chilgren, Indus, and Spooner series formed in glaciolacustrine sediments or water worked till
    Udalfs Baudette, Kooch, and Taylor series formed in water modified till or glaciolacustrine sediments.
    Psamments Clear river, Cormant, Graycalm, Hiwood, Menahga, Redby, Two Inlets and Zimmerman series formed in glaciolacustrine sediments on lake plains
    Haplosaprists Cathro, Berner, Dora and Markey series formed in organic material over glaciolacustrine sediments or water-modified till
    Haplohemists Greenwood and Rifle series formed in thick layer of organic material on lake plains
    Haplosaprists Seelyevill series formed in thick layer of organic material on lake plains
    Sphagnofibrists Lobo series formed in thick layer of organic material on lake plains

    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.
    Small areas of prairie in western part of area

    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 MLRAs relativly unaltered landscape supports a high percentage of the rare plants and animals that occur in Minnesota, including the Timber wolf.

    Land Use

    7% - Cropland - private
    2% - Grassland - private
    1% - - Federal
    73% - Forest - private
    2% - - Federal
    1% - Urban development - private
    11% - Water - private
    3% - Other - private

    75% Forested - Aspen cover type dominant. Hardwood and softwoods harvested mostly for pulp.
    Cropland mostly in western part of MLRA. Main crops are alfalfa, barley, oats, sunflower, and wheat.

    Short growing season, excessive periods of rainfall, and poor drainage reduce crop yields in some years. Specialty crops, including bluegrass seed, foundation seed potatoes, and wild rice are grown in some areas. Scattered livestock operations throughout area.
    Two large, frequently used lakes include Leech Lake and Cass Lake.

    Major resource concerns are excessive soil wetness, short growing season and surface compaction. Some sandy areas subject to wind erosion. Important conservation practices include selection of crops tolerant to wetness and short growing season, timely tillage can improve yields. Cover crops and minimum tillage can help overcome wind erosion on sandy soils. Timely tree harvest can minimize compaction when soils are wet and can enhance regeneration of tree species.

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