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201 4th Street SE, Room 108
Rochester, MN  55904

Phone:  507-328-2440

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Cascade Creek and Zumbro Confluence
Flooding of Rochester Creek
Native Vegetation along Roadway
Mayo Run
Stormwater Pond in Summer

Rochester's Watersheds

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Rochester's Watersheds

The City of Rochester lies within the Zumbro River watershed, which in turn drains to the Mississippi River, which drains to the Gulf of Mexico. The Zumbro River watershed is more than 900,000 acres in size and reaches parts of six counties. Within our watershed, there are nine smaller watersheds: Bear Creek, Cascade Creek, Hadley Valley, Kings Run, Mayo Run, River Run, Silver Creek, Willow Creek, and the Zumbro River.

Whenever water runs off the landscape it has the potential to pick up pollutants. While the pollutants coming off a single property may not be great, it is the cumulative effect of all pollutants in the watershed that impacts the receiving waters. The effects of stormwater pollution are seen on watersheds of any size, ranging from creeks in Rochester to the Gulf of Mexico's "Dead Zone."

Follow this link to learn more about the Zumbro River Watershed and other Watersheds in Minnesota on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's website.


Rochester's Receiving Waters

Surface water covers about 3% of the ground cover in Rochester. Our rivers, streams, and wetlands provide recreational opportunities for people and habitat for wildlife.  These surface waters are also the receiving waters in our watershed.

Rivers & Streams in Rochester

Rochester was built on a floodplain created by the South Fork of the Zumbro River and its tributaries. Our rivers and streams travel throughout the city and increase the quality of life in Rochester.  As our community grows, so must our commitment to protecting and improving the quality of our water resources. Keeping our water resources clean and usable is in everyone's interest.

Caring for our polluted waters

Clear water doesn't necessarily mean it is clean. There are a wide variety of pollutants, both visible and invisible to the naked eye, that pollute our waterways. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is responsible for monitoring and assessing water quality, listing impaired waters, and determining the amount of pollutants a water body can handle (Total Maximum Daily Loads, TMDL).  The TMDL standards define how much of a pollutant (bacteria, nutrients, turbidity, mercury, etc.) can be in the water and still meet designated uses, such as drinking water, fishing, and swimming. A water body is “impaired” if it fails to meet one or more water quality standards

Monitoring suggests that about 40 percent of Minnesota's lakes and streams are impaired for conventional pollutants, a rate comparable to what other states are finding. All of Rochester's major waterways are considered "impaired." Impaired waters identified through the assessment process are placed on the Minnesota's Impaired Waters List.

Click here to view the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Impaired Waters Viewer 

Visit our Clean Water Actions page to learn how to prevent pollution and care for our polluted water.

Flooding in Rochester

Rochester has had historic floods in 1855, 1866, 1882, 1908, and 1978.  The last flood in 1978 was the worst Rochester had experienced. In response, the City of Rochester, Olmsted County, and the Olmsted Soil and Water Conservation District, with assistance of the Corps of Engineers and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), constructed a flood protection project from 1984 to 1995.

The historic 1978 flood was used as a model during the design process so that the Flood Control Project could handle any flood event previously experienced in the community. The Flood Control Project uses a multi-faceted approach that combines water storage in reservoirs upstream, stream bank stabilization, construction of a wider and deeper channel, and levees. This has reduced flood risk in Rochester to 0.52% in any given year and has reduced the impacts of flooding downstream.

Please contact the City of Rochester with questions about the Flood Control Project by calling Public Works at 507-328-2400 or send an email.

Stay in the know!

If you plan to use the river for recreational use or live in a floodplain area please keep the following information handy.

City of Rochester Emergency Management Website

Current River Levels

The Minnesota Department of Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) provide access to near real-time and historical stream flow and water quality data across the state of Minnesota via the Cooperative Stream Gaging Website.

Gaging Sites in Rochester:


Wetlands in Rochester

A wetland is described as an area with mostly wet soils, water either above or just beneath the surface of the ground, and vegetation that is adapted to grow in wet conditions. 

Wetlands are part of the foundation of our nation's water resources and are vital to the health of waterways and communities that surround them. There are eight different types of wetlands in the state of Minnesota. In Rochester, you can find six of these wetland types: shallow marshes, shallow open water, shrub swamps, wooded swamps, seasonal basins, and wet meadows. (The two you will not find in Rochester are bogs and deep marshes.) There are approximately 800 acres* of wetlands within Rochester city-limits, which equates to 2-3% of the ground cover. *This number is dependent upon the season.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates there are about 10.62 million acres of wetlands remaining in Minnesota. Unfortunately this number is about half of what was originally found in the state. Even with the drastic decrease in the number of wetlands, the state of Minnesota is second only to Florida (among the contiguous states) in the diversity and extent of wetlands.

The many jobs of a wetland

Erosion Control: Wetlands reduce erosion along lakes and stream banks by reducing the forces associated with moving water.

Flood Control: Wetlands slow runoff water down and store water from intense rain storms and times of snow melt. This then helps to minimize the frequency in which streams and rivers reach catastrophic flood levels.

Habitat: Wildlife of all shapes and sizes depend on wetlands for food sources, resting spots, protection from predators, and spawning or rearing their young. 43% of threatened or endangered species, including plants and animals, live in or depend on wetlands.

Groundwater Support: By detaining surface waters that would otherwise quickly flow away, water in wetlands can instead percolate into the ground. Some wetlands receive groundwater during dry periods which helps reduce the impact of short term droughts.

Natural Filter: When water is trapped and held in a wetland, nutrients and pollutants become stored in the soils which results in cleaner water flowing into the body of water beyond or below the wetland. Vegetation, like cattails, can absorb some of the pollutants that remain in the soil. Wetlands also moderate water flows, providing time for sediments to settle out before water is released, resulting in cleaner waters.

Recreation: Wetlands provide opportunities for outdoor recreational pursuits including canoeing, fishing, hunting, birding and exploration.

Income: Wetlands provide economic commodities such as cranberries, wild rice, and fish. Additionally, developments benefit from the spatial amenities wetlands can provide.

Rare Natural Community in Rochester!

Calcareous fens are one of the rarest natural communities in the United States. These unique wetlands, which are a type of wet meadow, are fed by mineral-rich groundwater and have little inflow of surface runoff. Fens are highly diverse with over 100 different plant species, some of which are rare, threatened or endangered.

Fen Fun Facts:

  • Fens comprise only 0.03% of all wetlands in Minnesota, making them a very rare type of wetland.
  • Of Minnesota's 53,775,155 total acres, fens cover only 4,000 acres - this is equal to 0.007%!
  • Biodiversity is high in fens. Almost 20% of the plant species found throughout Olmsted County are found in our fens.
  • Fens are home to rare, threatened, and endangered amphibians, reptiles, snails, and butterflies.
  • Olmsted County has the third highest number of inventoried fens in the state. 10 of the state's 200 fens are found here.
  • There are 4 known fens located with the city limits of Rochester.

Learn more about fens in the handouts below: