Northern Minnesota River

has Stronger Riverbanks, Less Erosion

Installing fallen trees, re-establishing flood plains, and planting new trees along Minnesota’s Flute Reed River helped stabilize the river, reduce sedimentation, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.


The Flute Reed River runs from northern Minnesota through the town of Hovland into Lake Superior. Over time the river began scouring the riverbanks and eroding sediment into the stream. The distinctive red clay along the stream contains high levels of phosphorus, so not only does the sediment begin to clog the stream and make it inhospitable to fish and other aquatic wildlife, but it also contributes to high nutrient levels in Lake Superior, which can cause algal blooms. Preventing the sediment from entering the Flute Reed and increasing the overall health of the river became a priority for the people along the river who formed the Flute Reed Partnership Watershed Group. The partnership, started by Rick Schubert, began in 2006 and within a few years began collecting data to assess which banks along the river were losing the most sediment, and monitoring water quality throughout the stream. These two pieces of information were used to create a plan to stabilize the stream banks, make flood plains that could hold water but that wouldn’t increase erosion, and restore habitat for fish and wildlife along the river. In 2010 the Partnership received Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding and was able to move forward more rapidly with their plans for the Flute Reed River.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Extreme erosion
  • Sediment build-up in the river
  • Unhealthy nutrient levels
  • Aquatic habitat degradation


Flute Reed River in Minnesota. Photo credit: Kerrie Berg Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The riverbank stabilization project installed floodplain areas into Flute Reed River, like the one pictured to the right, which help slow floodwaters while plants hold the soil in place. Photo credit: Kerrie Berg Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Results and Accomplishments

By September 2013, four areas along the riverbanks of the Flute Reed had been stabilized by adding large logs that slowed the flow of the water, deflecting it away from the eroding banks. The logs were covered in soil and plantings to help anchor them in place and absorb flood waters, while also providing habitat for wildlife along the river. In addition, over 5,000 tree seedlings were planted to anchor the soil in place. Within the coming years, the forest should begin to reclaim the eroded riverbanks.

A river with a few trees in the stream.

Flooding on the Flute Reed River in Minnesota can be extreme in the spring, causing erosion along the banks of the river. Floodwaters were transferring huge amounts of phosphorus-rich sediment into Lake Superior. Photo credit: Rick Schubert, Flute Reed Watershed Partnership.

A river with machinery on the riverbank working to build it up with more dirt.

To allow the land to naturally recover from past erosion, the Flute Reed River is contained to a smaller streambed while crews install logs and soil, creating a stronger riverbank, less susceptible to erosion. A stronger riverbank will decrease sediment entering Lake Superior. Photo credit: Rick Schubert, Flute Reed Watershed Partnership.