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Red River Basin

Background Information

The Red River, or Red River of the North as it is known in the United States, flows north from its headwaters in Minnesota, across the Canada-United States international boundary, to its outlet at Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. It meanders through the flat and fertile valley of the former glacial Lake Agassiz. The river basin occupies substantial portions of North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota, southern Manitoba and a very small portion of northeastern South Dakota. It covers 116,500 square kilometers or 45,000 square miles, excluding the Assiniboine River basin, which joins the Red River at Winnipeg.

The hydrologic system of the Red River basin is complex. It is influenced by many natural and human forces. To deal with this system, dozens of government agencies and organizations have evolved with management responsibilities or interests in various aspects of its water and land resources. These resources are managed and controlled through myriad federal, provincial, state and local laws, regulations, rules, and ordinances. In addition, there are a number of binational, interstate and international arrangements as well as committees and working groups that oversee and coordinate many aspects of basin water management.

The History of IJC involvement in the Red River Basin

International Souris-Red Rivers Engineering Board: In response to a request from the governments of Canada and the U.S. in January 1948, the IJC established the International Souris-Red Rivers Engineering Board to report on the use and apportionment of the waters within the Souris, Red, Poplar and Big Muddy river basins and to develop plans of mutual advantage for these waters. The Board has been involved in numerous issues over the years. With respect to the Red River, these include flooding and dyking problems, Garrison Diversion, Pembina River water supply and flooding and Roseau River water management. The board has reported routinely on water use and development activities that could have transboundary impacts.

International Red River Pollution Board: In 1964, the IJC was requested by the governments to study and report on the extent and causes of pollution of the Red River at the boundary and to recommend remedial measures. Governments adopted the water quality objectives recommended by the Commission in April 1968 and agreed that a water quality supervision board be established. The International Red River Pollution Board was established by the Commission in June 1969 and has provided continuous surveillance of the water quality of the Red River at the international boundary. The board also partnered with state, provincial and local governments to improve water quality and has monitored the health of the Red River ecosystem.

International Red River Basin Task Force: Recognizing the devastating effects of the 1997 Red River flood on both sides of the border and the need for cross-border cooperation in addressing flood-related issues, the governments of Canada and the United States on June 12, 1997 asked the IJC to examine and report on the causes and effects of damaging floods in the Red River basin, and to make recommendations on means to reduce, mitigate and prevent harm from future flooding in the basin. With the completion of the IJC’s final report of November 2000 Living With the Red – A report to the Governments of Canada and the United States on Reducing Flood Impacts in the Red River Basin, the Task Force work has been completed.

International Red River Board: To ensure a more ecosystemic approach to transboundary water issues and to achieve operational efficiencies in the conduct of IJC responsibilities, the IJC combined the ongoing activities and membership of the International Souris-Red Rivers Engineering Board and the International Red River Pollution Board into the International Red River Board. The mandate of the board was outlined in its Directive of February 7, 2001 from the IJC.

International Red River Watershed Board: On August 4th, 2021, the International Red River Board was officially designated as an international watershed board, following a pilot project in 2005 through the International Watersheds Initiative that designated the board as an “international pilot watershed board”. Watershed boards monitor water quality, water quantity and aquatic health using an integrative, ecosystem approach. The International Red River Watershed Board is one of three IJC international watershed boards including the International St. Croix River Watershed Board and the International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board. The board’s directive has been updated to reflect this change.