The Rum River and its tributaries are the latest focus of an expanding effort to protect clean water and wildlife habitat by targeting environmentally sensitive tracts within the Mississippi River headwaters region — a source of Twin Cities and St. Cloud drinking water, and a critical migration corridor.

Reinvest In Minnesota and a $3 million legislative allocation of Clean Water Funds make permanent easements an option for willing landowners within the nine-county watershed. Letters sent in late February and early March targeted 115 prioritized parcels, all but a handful of them within Mille Lacs, Isanti and Anoka counties. The initial focus centers on the Rum River’s main stem and west branch, plus Mille Lacs Lake.

The Rum River is on the brink of impairment.

Phosphorous levels were within 2% of the impairment threshold, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s 2017 Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy report. Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy is a once-a-decade monitoring and evaluation of the state’s 80 major watersheds. Phosphorous feeds the algae that can turn waters green.

The tourism industry would be affected, too. The Rum River is one of six state-designated Wild & Scenic Rivers in Minnesota.

Isanti, Anoka and Mille Lacs SWCD staff members are coordinating the Reinvest in Minnesota program in the Rum River watershed. The easements that protect the Mississippi headwaters as a drinking water source were first available in the Pine River and Crow Wing River watersheds.

Rum River watershed Reinvest in Minnesota funds are available through 2022.