Historic Waters of the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization

MWMO Watershed Bulletin 2011-4


The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) requested the following historic study of the Watershed to inform its planning and water resource management efforts. Results from this study are intended to provide a better understanding of the presettlement hydrology and ecology of the MWMO jurisdictional area and how alterations to the present day urban landscape have affected and are affected by natural features.

The MWMO encompasses 13,602 acres (31.5 square miles) of fully developed urban lands and waters within the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul St. Anthony Village, and Lauderdale as well as property owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB). The Watershed’s legal boundary is determined in part by the natural landscape characteristics of historic drainages and in part by the existing pipeshed of the cities within the boundary. The Watershed is entirely urban on both the east and west banks of the Mississippi River as it passes through the Minneapolis Central Business Dis­trict. As such, it is an area where the hydrological and surficial area has been fundamentally altered by cultural landscape uses since the mid-nineteenth century with European west-ward expansion of the continent.

The purpose of this research is to provide as clear of a picture of the presettlement landscape as possible given the constraints of rapid settlement and the wholesale alteration of the land in the project area. The outcome will be a compendium of collected data as well as digital mapping that places source data into geospatially accurate mapped shapes for the purposes of future planning and design. The study cannot, due to budget constraints, be approached or viewed as a com­plete history of the development of Minneapolis, though where possible, the author will provide source information for further study.

Another, more directly applicable product of this project is the creation of a subwatershed map that reflects the pre-settlement water features and subwatersheds of the MWMO area. Given the extent to which the landscape has been altered for permanent settlement, watersheds have shifted based on major topographic alterations. These alterations are found in the forms of transportation corridors (rail, barge and highway construction), residential and commercial developments, mining op­erations and, most significantly, the rerouting of waters through city pipeshed systems. The exploration of these alterations for this project indicate that there has been a great deal more water feature filling than any resident of the city might imagine. The subwatershed maps created for this project attempt to delineate minor water­shed boundaries within the MWMO prior to the major landscape alterations of the past century and a half.


Tony Randazzo (Great River Greening, HDR, Inc.)

Suggested Citation

Mississippi Watershed Management Organization. 2011. Historic Waters of the MWMO. MWMO Watershed Bulletin 2011-4. 192 p.

Download the Report

Download (PDF, 200 MB, 192 pages)

Note: Due to its large file size, this document is hosted on Google Drive.

*Update 01/24/2019: This document was updated to correct a number of upside-down pages. No other changes were made.