Our Story

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.

WaterLegacy founder Diadra Decker (second from right), staff and advisors at Headwaters Allies for Justice event, 2013

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