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Boreal Community Media

Public hears presentation on the health of the Flute Reed River

Jun 04, 2019 08:02PM ● By Editor
Steve Persons of the MN DNR addresses community members in Hovland.  Photo:  Boreal Community Media

From Boreal Community Media - June 4, 2019

Members of the public were briefed Tuesday on the health of the Flute Reed River by Steve Persons, MN DNR fisheries manager.  A longtime veteran of the MN DNR in Cook County, Persons called the Flute Reed "one of the best steelhead rivers on the North Shore."

Ilena Hansel, Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District Manger, was on hand at the meeting to introduce Persons and answer questions regarding the local government unit's efforts to enhance the health of lakes and streams in Cook County.

The Flute Reed River is 13 miles long and its watershed is 17 square miles.  87% of the watershed is forested land, and only 2% is developed land.  The river is a lake fed stream that is highly dependent on precipitation to supply water low.  The river was first listed as impaired water in 2010 for failing to meet the aquatic life-based water quality standards.

Persons said the limiting factors to the Flute Reed is turbidity caused by suspended clay which can clog spawning grounds. More than 50% of the watershed is made up of red clay geology, impacting hydrology, sediment transport and aquatic life.  Low flows are a risk as the river dried up in the droughts of 1976 as well as experiencing "anchor ice" formations in 2002-03 and 2006-07 when water freezes from the bottom up wiping out the steelhead population in the river.

The Flute Reed River near the mouth to Lake Superior.  Photo:  MPCA

Persons said the DNR has conducted fish assessments on an annual basis since the 1980s.  He said steelhead swim up the river during high water flows in the spring to spawn, the hatchling fry stay in the river for 1 to 3 years before migrating back to Lake Superior.

Human conditions that can contribute to problems include road ditches and driveways that can create runways for sediment.  Hansen said the Soil and Water Conservation District is available to consult with property owners and developers on best practices to avoid sediment delivery. 

As for the long term, Persons said, "Water temperatures on North Shore rivers are dependent on air temperatures.  Climate change - where temperatures rise, can put streams at risk. Maintaining forest coverage is key to keeping temperatures low."