Located in Northeast Iowa and Southeast Minnesota, the Upper Iowa River and its watershed are valuable natural and economic resources. The Upper Iowa River watershed is a 1,005 square mile watershed recognized by the EPA and the State of Iowa in the Unified Watershed Assessment as a Priority Watershed.
The watershed is an area of rugged hills and steep topography with diverse land use. The surface water system in this watershed is made up of a complex network of spring fed coldwater trout streams.
The Upper Iowa River and its tributaries contribute to the economic health of the region. The waters of Northeast Iowa are a major attraction for anglers and other water recreationists. The Upper Iowa Watershed is noted for its fine fisheries, and the Iowa DNR estimates over 314,000 angler trips per year are made to the Upper Iowa River Watershed stimulating over $29 million dollars of economic activity each year. The Iowa DNR estimates canoeists enjoying the Upper Iowa River generate another $5 million yearly. Local DNR Fisheries Biologists consider these estimates, which are based on the area of the watershed, to be extremely low.