Who we are

WaterLegacy is an award-winning grassroots non-profit 501(c)(3) organization formed in 2009 to counter the threat of sulfide mining proposed for Northern Minnesota.

Our founders were concerned that sulfide mining would destroy wetlands, wildlife, habitats and wild rice, contaminate water with toxic metals, increase mercury levels in fish, and impair tribal rights.

As a result of outreach and advocacy, WaterLegacy has grown to more than 8,000 supporters. Since our founding, we have facilitated over 40,000 citizen comments and other actions to protect Minnesota clean water.

Our mission

WaterLegacy’s mission is to protect Minnesota’s fresh waters and natural resources resources and the communities that rely on them. We are committed to environmental health and environmental justice as well as to protection of natural resources.

What we do

WaterLegacy addresses the human health and environmental impacts of open-pit sulfide mining through advocacy at the state and federal level, education and citizen engagement. We work to strengthen enforcement of regulations to protect water quality, to increase public participation and to support tribal authority that prevents pollution of tribal waters downstream of polluted discharge.

Our first critical focus is the proposal by PolyMet Mining Company to construct Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine. The PolyMet open-pit sulfide mine would be located on what is now high quality wetlands and public forest land in the Superior National Forest. Sulfide mine pollution threatens the St. Louis River watershed, which is a vital part of the Lake Superior Basin, and Boundary Waters watershed.

How We Work

  • Provides detailed legal and technical advocacy to prevent sulfide mining pollution and destruction. Our strategy deliberately prevents the mining industry from undermining rules and enforcement that should protect clean water.

  • Collaborates with the Fond du Lac and Grand Portage Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa who live, hunt, fish and gather plants downstream of the proposed sulfide mine. Though  we maintain a close working relationship with the Bands, we respect that they are independent sovereign governments.

  • Engages existing community leaders, including citizen scientists and local doctors, who have become some of our most important partners and experts.

  • Works with other environmental groups in the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) and shares our work product to increase the capacity of other groups.

  • Works with news outlets and social media channels to educate citizens across Minnesota about the dangers of sulfide mine pollution.                                            

Notable Accomplishments

  • WaterLegacy successfully petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s failure to adequately control pollution from existing mines. For the first time in Minnesota history, the EPA has committed to investigate state failure to control mining pollution. EPA can use the power of federal law to remove state permitting authority if a state fails to control water pollution.

  • WaterLegacy preserved the sulfate pollution standard that protects natural wild rice. WaterLegacy intervened in a lawsuit that the mining industry filed to strike down the standard. We won our case in district court and at the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The standard is critical because high levels of sulfate, such as those found in sulfide mine pollution, kill natural wild rice. The standard also helps prevent the bioaccumulation of methylmercury in fish, which causes brain damage to infants and children.

  • WaterLegacy, in collaboration with tribal allies, is changing federal policies and regulations to empower tribes to protect water resources. WaterLegacy’s Advocacy Director wrote the first scholarly article to explain authority of downstream tribes under the Clean Water Act to block federal permits that would pollute their waters. WaterLegacy is working in partnership with the Bands to help EPA implement tribal authority to clean up impaired waters as well as to prevent pollution by blocking permits for new upstream discharge. Both innovations would counteract mining industry pressure that has subverted protection of Minnesota clean water, human health and tribal resources.

  • WaterLegacy, in collaboration with our environmental group partners, broke all records for citizen engagement when PolyMet’s draft mine plan was released in 2013. Some 4,500 people attended public meetings on the plan, and 58,000 public comments were sent, nearly all questioning or opposing PolyMet’s plan. When the final mine plan was released in fall 2015, even though we had only 30 days to respond, WaterLegacy and our partners engaged over 30,000 public comments.

  • WaterLegacy has built an administrative record that will be used to protect Minnesota’s waters during the PolyMet permitting process, or if necessary, in litigation. Despite the short period to respond to PolyMet’s final mine plan and proposals for a federal land exchange and a federal permit, WaterLegacy submitted 110 pages of comments detailing why the PolyMet final mine plan was inadequate, 84 pages of comments explaining why PolyMet does not meet legal requirements for a federal permit under the Clean Water Act, 133 pages of objections explaining why a land exchange for the PolyMet project is contrary to law and the public interest, six expert opinions and 43 new exhibits.

Recognition and Awards


  • Minnesota’s #1 Environmental Non-Profit Start-up from Philanthropedia

  • Environmental Stewardship Award from the Lake Superior Binational Forum

  • Allies for Justice Award from the Headwaters Foundation

  • Freshwater Hero Award from Freshwater Future


WaterLegacy's Board

WaterLegacy has an active board with six members, two-thirds of whom live in Northeastern Minnesota.

  • WaterLegacy’s President now lives in Minneapolis, but he grew up downstream on the St. Louis River, where his family still resides. His education includes global politics, communications and global environmental policy, and he has led service learning overseas as well as organizing to increase renewable energy. He now serves as a program coordinator/organizer for the Land Stewardship Project, working with the Community Based Food Systems Program.
  • WaterLegacy's Treasurer lives near the North Shore of Lake Superior and is the owner and operator of an off-grid organic vegetable farm. She is an educator and consultant in the areas of sustainable living and agriculture. She also has an accounting degree and specializes in government and nonprofit financial management.

  • WaterLegacy’s Secretary is a business owner of a successful firm that specializes in energy efficiency,conservation/sustainability engineering services for the built environment. She is an entrepreneur with experience in business planning, human resources and grant writing as well as building science and capital planning.

  • WaterLegacy’s founding board member lives in Inver Grove Heights, MN. She is a business consultant, specializing in start-up and expansion planning and a former Bush Leadership Fellow. She has been involved in citizen activism related to sulfide mining in Minnesota for three decades, serving as an active member of several leading environmental groups seeking stronger laws and regulations to protect Minnesota waters from sulfide mining pollution.

  • WaterLegacy’s board also includes a Duluth, MN resident retired from the University of Minnesota Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica, where he supervised the Center for Just Living and coordinated the service learning program. He is a community activist and organizer in his Duluth neighborhood and is involved through faith communities in work to secure social and economic justice.

  • WaterLegacy’s newest board member lives in Finland, MN. He is an angler, wild rice harvester, and supporter of indigenous struggles who makes his living as a forestry consultant and DNR approved Forest Stewardship Plan writer. He also has expertise in GIS analysis, wetland ecology, writing, database design, and web development.


Our Advisors

WaterLegacy relies on a network of citizen scientists and activists to develop and implement our strategy. These advisors include:

  • A core group of 10 family doctors and child psychiatrists in Duluth, MN, concerned about potential effects of sulfide mine pollution on health, particularly the brain development of children.

  • A retired nurse and long-time environmental activist in Cloquet, MN, concerned about mercury and sulfate pollution impacts on health and wild rice.

  • Retired staff from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources living in Stacy, MN, with expertise about mining wastes and discharge, clean-up of superfund sites, and effects of mining pollution on fish and aquatic life.

  • A retired miner and retired teacher living in Sudan, MN, with expertise on the history and economics of mining in Minnesota and the social context of Minnesota’s Iron Range.

  • A Finland, MN, campaign coordinator at Organic Consumers Association, a national grassroots organization working for social justice, abundant clean water,  and sustainable foods.

  • Leaders from other environmental groups in Minnesota and Wisconsin with long-time expertise in protecting wetlands, surface waters and tribal resources from pollution and destruction.

  • Additional citizen volunteers across Minnesota and in Wisconsin and Canada with expertise in geology, hydrology, engineering, wetlands and statistics who have generously donated their time to provide expert reports and review WaterLegacy advocacy documents for technical accuracy.

WaterLegacy’s most important strategic advisors are tribal staff and consultants. We consult with tribal staff prior to every strategic decision made by WaterLegacy, share work product and drafts, and make every effort to understand and respect tribal independent goals and priorities


Our (Contract) Staff

Paula Maccabee
Advocacy Director and Counsel

Paula has 35 years of experience in public interest law, policy, advocacy, communications, campaign strategy, and tactics. She has served as litigator for Dalkon Shield defective product cases, as Special Assistant Attorney General coordinating task force on preventing sexual violence against women, and as St. Paul City Council Member. Since 1994, her public interest firm, Just Change Law, has counted among its clients the Sierra Club, Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota, and the City of Minneapolis, as well as organic farmers, wind developers and diverse citizens’ groups. In 2010, Minnesota Lawyer named her one of its Attorneys of the Year for her public interest work. Jewish Women’s Archive has honored her as one of America’s 15 Jewish Women in Environmental Activism. In 2015, based on the nomination of Duluth area doctors working to prevent sulfide mine health effects, she was awarded the Harvey G. Rogers Environmental Health Leadership Award by the Minnesota Public Health Association.

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