Water resources of the White Earth Indian Reservation, northwestern Minnesota

Water-Resources Investigations Report 89-4074

Prepared in cooperation with the White Earth Indian Reservation Business Committee



Water resources in the White Earth Indian Reservation meet the present (1988) needs for potable supply and other household uses and provide valuable ecological, recreational, and aesthetic benefits. Total annual water use in the Reservation is about 460 million gallons per year. Domestic supply from privately owned wells and municipal systems accounts for roughly three-fourths of the water use, and irrigation of croplands and nurseries accounts for approximately one-fourth, depending on rainfall.

Glacial-drift aquifers are the source of ground water in the Reservation. Unconfined-drift aquifers consist of two surficial outwash deposits that extend over approximately one-fifth of the Reservation. One deposit trends along a north-south strip through the central part of the Reservation, and the other occupies the southeastern corner. Confined-drift aquifers are the most significant source of ground-water supply. These aquifers are discontinuous lenses of sand and gravel that hydraulically are poorly connected to each other. The aquifers are 50 to 300 feet below land surface and 5 to 25 feet thick. Yields from these aquifers typically range from 10 to 100 gallons per minute.

Surface water in the Reservation consist of numerous lakes, wetlands, prairie potholes, and streams. The larger, deeper lakes in the eastern and southern parts of the Reservation support walleye and northern pike and provide recreational opportunities for swimming and boating. The shallower lakes and prairie potholes are used to produce wild rice and also are managed to provide waterfowl habitat. Most of the streams in the Reservation drain the headwater areas of basins that are part of the Red River of the North watershed; however, several small streams in the southeastern part drain to the Crow Wing River, which is part of the Mississippi River drainage system. The Wild Rice River drains the largest basin in the Reservation.

Ground water is mostly a calcium magnesium bicarbonate type. Dissolvedsolids concentration of the ground water generally is greater in the deeper confined-drift aquifers than in the shallower unconfined-drift aquifers. The concentrations of sodium and sulfate in water from the confined-drift aquifers are higher in the northwestern part of the Reservation than in the rest of the aquifer. Except for elevated concentrations of iron and manganese, the quality of the ground water meets the criteria established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for drinking water.

Surface water also is a calcium magnesium bicarbonate type. Lake waters are hard and alkaline and are mesotrophic to eutrophic in productivity. Quality of the lake and stream water is suitable for native forms of freshwater biota, although the concentration of total recoverable mercury exceeds the 0.012 micrograms per liter maximum contaminant level; that level, established by USEPA for the organic form of dissolved mercury, is intended to protect against chronic effects on freshwater life. Available information, however, indicates that the amount of mercury in edible tissue from fish in alkaline lakes of northwestern Minnesota is within safe limits. The concentrations of phosphorus and nitrate in the streams are below levels that indicate pollution problems.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Water resources of the White Earth Indian Reservation, northwestern Minnesota
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
St. Paul, MN
Contributing office(s):
Minnesota Water Science Center
vii, 73 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
White Earth Indian Reservation
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