History of the District

The Sand Hill River in its natural state passed north of the City of Beltrami in a poorly defined channel and dispersed into marshes which extended westerly for over ten miles before reappearing as a river which flowed into the Red River of the North. In an effort to confine the Sand Hill River in a fixed channel, two state ditches were constructed during 1894-1898, substantially along the course now occupied by the present channel. The improvements were not adequate and additional construction was completed in 1917.

As drainage and flood problems persisted, the Corp of Engineers began a study of the river in 1942. As a result the Sand Hill Drainage and Conservancy Board was established by an order of the District Court of Polk County, State of Minnesota, on the 18th day of May, 1949 to carry out the Corps project to improve the main channel. The overall purpose of the Board was for "flood control and improvement of the Sand Hill River channel." Construction work was completed in the fall of 1954.

The process to establish the Sand Hill River Watershed District was a Court Hearing at Crookston, MN on August 28, 1974. The place of business of the Sand Hill River Watershed District was determined to be at Fertile, MN. The duties and responsibilities of the old Sand Hill River Drainage and Conservancy Board were given to the new District on May 28, 1975 in accordance with the Minnesota Watershed Act.

In 1976 the Sand Hill River Watershed District signed a joint powers agreement with six other watershed districts to form an organization now known as the Red River Watershed Management board. In 1980 the Buffalo Red Watershed District joined and in 1994, Boise De Sioux also joined.

On March 8, 1978 the Sand Hill River Watershed adopted the Rules and Regulations pursuant to Minnesota Statues.   They were later amended on October 3, 1978.

The District’s south boundaries were hydrologically determined and established at a hearing at the Fertile Community Center June 26, 1984. The north boundaries were established from the old Sand Hill Drainage & Conservancy District. The District now encompasses 495 square miles, almost wholly in the south part of Polk County, with a small part in Mahnomen and Norman County. The area includes the entire drainage basin of the Sand Hill River.

The average width of the basin is 8 miles and it is approximately 55 miles long. The Sand Hill River originates in Sand Hill Lake, located about four miles south of the City of Fosston and outlets two miles west of Climax into the Red River of the North. Elevation at the eastern end of the watershed is nearly 1,350 feet above sea level with an elevation of 850 feet at the western end.

Approximately 90 percent of the land in the District is used for agricultural or agriculturally related purposes. The watershed can be divided into three areas as follows:

    a.) West End:  This is the Red River Valley area, which was the bed of Glacial Lake Agassiz. It is nearly level and almost all cultivated. It extends easterly from the Red River of the North to a point about 6 miles west of the City of Fertile.

    b.) Central Region: This area is located from 6 miles west of the City of Fertile to a point about 3 miles east of the City with a major drop of nearly 300 feet in elevation from east to west. This area has considerable wetlands, gravel ridges and scrub tree growth.

    c.) East End: The upper reaches of the watershed are glacial in origin and its soils support agricultural uses. It is mostly gently rolling terrain with numerous potholes, the majority of which have been drained.

What is a Watershed District?

A watershed is the area within the geographic boundaries of land that drain into a surface water feature such as a stream, river, or lake and contributes to the recharge of groundwater. Watersheds are divided by areas of higher elevation that cause the drainage patterns of surface water within the watershed.

There are 81 major watersheds in Minnesota, some of which overlap into adjoining states. Together, these watersheds make up the State’s ten drainage basins. The Sand Hill River watershed, located in the center of the REd River Watershed in Northwest Minnesota, is one of 10 major watersheds in the Red River Basin.

Because water is continually moving, it is a resource that tends to be more difficult to manage on the basis of linear political boundaries. Municipal and county lines, based on the rectangular grid of original government surveys, are not often well suited for the management of water resources.

In 1955, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Watershed Act in order to better address water-related issues and concerns occurring within the state at the watershed level. Watershed districts are special purpose units of local government that have been created to help prevent and solve water resource problems on a watershed basis. The boundaries of a watershed district generally follow the hydrologic or topographical limits of an area or region. Most often, watersheds are named for the major surface water resource within the watershed. Hence, the name Sand Hill River Watershed District.