The Red Lake Watershed District is located in northwestern Minnesota in all of Red Lake County, most of Pennington County, and parts of the following counties: Mahnomen, Polk, Itasca, Marshall, Clearwater, Beltrami, Roseau, and Koochiching. It covers an area of 5,998 square miles.
The Red Lake Watershed District was preceded by a governmental unit known as the Red Lake Drainage and Conservancy District, whose territory included approximately the same land. Under the Conservancy District, three major improvement projects were completed: dredging of the Clearwater, Red Lake, and Lost Rivers.
The Board of Directors of the Red Lake Drainage and Conservancy District felt the District could better function under the Minnesota Watershed Act. The Board petitioned the District Court for the right to operate under Chapter 112, the Minnesota Watershed Act. A hearing was held in Thief River Falls on January 25, 1969, and the Conservancy District was authorized to operate under and exercise all the rights and authorities contained in the Minnesota Watershed Act.
The Board petitioned the Minnesota Water Resources Board (now the Board of Water and Soil Resources) on July 24, 1969, amended January 20, 1970, for a change of name, review of boundary, and distribution of managers of the Watershed District. A hearing on the matter was held at Thief River Falls on March 31, 1970, and at Kelliher on April 2, 1970. In their Order, the Water Resources Board stated that the principle place of business shall be at Thief River Falls; that a description of the land within the District be written; specified that the Board of Managers be seven members, the procedure by which county boards shall appoint managers and terms of office for the Managers.
On March 25, 1975, the Red Lake Watershed District adopted the Rules and Regulations pursuant to Minnesota Statutes. They were amended on May 12, 1978; December 14, 1978; August 10, 1989; June 24, 1993, and reviewed and updated August 27, 2015 titled "Red Lake Watershed District Rules and Guidance Document Amended Rules."
In 1977, the Red Lake Watershed District signed a Joint Powers Agreement with seven other watershed districts in the Red River Basin to form the Lower Red River Watershed Management Board. In 1991, the name was changed to the Red River Watershed Management Board. Currently there are seven Watershed Districts that are members. A levy is collected from each Watershed District and is used for funding the development, construction, and maintenance of projects of common benefit to the Red River Basin.
The Red Lake Watershed District currently is governed by Minnesota Statutes 103D, which provides a broader scope for a local unit of government to manage quantity and quality of water within the hydrological boundaries.