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about Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and their watersheds.
Wisconsin’s Great Lakes from invasive species and pollution.
critical Great Lakes habitat and lakeshore value.
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Lower Estuary in Duluth–Superior harbor

Contact information
For more information about the St. Louis River AOC, contact:
Matt Steiger
St. Louis River AOC coordinator

St. Louis River Area of Concern


About the St. Louis River River AOC

Largest tributary to Lake Superior

The largest U.S. tributary to Lake Superior, the St. Louis River drains 3,634 square miles, entering the southwestern corner of the lake between Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin. The river flows 179 miles through three distinct areas:

  • coarse soils, glacial till and outwash deposits at its headwaters;
  • a deep, narrow gorge at Jay Cooke State Park; and
  • red clay deposits in its lower reaches.

As it approaches Duluth and Superior, the river takes on the characteristics of a 12,000 acre freshwater estuary.

St. Louis Area of concern map

The AOC boundary includes the lower 39 miles of the St. Louis River, from upstream of Cloquet, Minnesota, to its mouth at the Duluth/Superior Harbor, and that portion of the watershed; the Nemadji River watershed; and the western portion of Lake Superior approximately 10 miles from the mouth of the river (see map).

The upper estuary has some wilderness–like areas, while the lower estuary is characterized by urban development, an industrial harbor and a major port. The lower estuary culminates in the Duluth–Superior Harbor, which is one of the more heavily used ports on the Great Lakes. In 1987, concerns over environmental quality conditions prompted the designation of the lower 39 miles of St. Louis River as one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

Historical actions such as improper municipal and industrial waste disposal and unchecked land use practices, including dredging and filling of aquatic habitat and damaging logging practices, contributed to the complex set of issues facing the AOC at the time it was listed.

Major funding for many of the projects in the St. Louis River AOC comes from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Community engagement

Community Advisory Committee (CAC)

Created in 1996, as a nonprofit, the St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee’s (SLRCAC) primary focus and efforts was to foster communication between public and tribal agencies, industry groups and community stakeholders in the implementation of the RAP. The CAC also advocates and sponsors stewardship efforts as well as promotes sound management of the resources provided by the St. Louis River, Lake Superior, and their watersheds.

In 2009, the SLRCAC began doing business as the St. Louis River Alliance. Alliance members include individuals, families, businesses, organizations, local and tribal governments – all helping to support our work to improve the St. Louis River.

St. Louis River Alliance
394 South Lake Avenue, Suite 321
Duluth MN 55802
Office Phone: 218–733–9520
Office Fax: 218–723–4794
St. Louis River Alliance website [exit DNR]

St. Louis River Estuary: The Stories and the Science

Visit The Stories and the Science [exit DNR] website to explore the stories of the estuary through the eyes of people that live and work here and delve into the science of the interplay between humans and ecosystems. Challenge yourself with real-world Geoquests or see how deep maps capture the beauty and complexity of this special place.

Get involved

To learn more about AOC community events, volunteer opportunities and more, check out these links.



Hog Island Inlet

A No Swimming sign was removed
in 2005 after remedial action at
Hog Island Inlet was completed.

The majority of the beneficial use impairments (BUIs) listed for the St. Louis River AOC are due to historic habitat loss from the extensive filling of wetlands and dredging of shallow aquatic habitat, and releases of waste materials that contaminated the sediments and water in the estuary. Some sediment–derived contaminants also appear to be carried by the water column to Lake Superior, the most pristine Great Lake. The States are responsible for implementing Remedial Action Plans to remove the impairments and delist the St. Louis River as an Area of Concern.

Of the 14 beneficial uses, nine are listed as impaired for the St. Louis River.

  • Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  • Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
  • Fish tumors or other deformities - BUI removed Feb. 2019
  • Degradation of benthos
  • Restrictions on dredging activities
  • Excessive loading of nutrients and sediments - BUI removed April 2020
  • Beach closings and body contact
  • Degradation of aesthetics - BUI removed Aug. 2014
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat

Timeline for removing impairments

Final BUI removal packages with cover letters



Shipping on the St. Louis River

Matt Steiger
St. Louis River AOC Coordinator
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources
Superior WI
Melissa Sjolund
St. Louis River AOC Coordinator
Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources
Duluth MN
Barb Huberty
St. Louis River AOC Coordinator
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Duluth MN
Rick Gitar
Water Regulatory Specialist
Fond du Lac Resource Management – Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota
Cloquet Minnesota



Wisconsin leads approximately 25 management actions in the St. Louis River AOC. Of the 77 total actions, 31 have been completed. These actions include habitat restoration, sediment cleanup and monitoring and assessment projects.

Wisconsin project fact sheets
Coordination with Minnesota

Minnesota leads approximately 31 actions in the St. Louis River AOC. To learn more see:

Completed cleanup sites
Last revised: Monday May 18 2020