New DNR Head Has Agenda of Change
Climate change, lead laterals and CAFO-polluted private wells are top concerns.
He’s been the state’s chief environmental advocate for only seven months, but Preston Cole wants big changes.
In a WisconsinEye interview, Cole called for action to confront groundwater contamination, replace lead-lined pipes that bring water to homes in 130 communities, a return to science-based decisions, and for Wisconsin to lead on handling climate change.
A former Milwaukee city official with a college degree in forestry management, Cole is running DNR while he waits on the state Senate to confirm him. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tapped him to run DNR, but former Republican Gov. Scott Walker appointed him to DNR’s governing board in 2007.
Cole called groundwater contamination Wisconsin’s “number one” environmental and public health problem.
“People are worried,” he said. “About 1.7 million people get their water from 800,000 private wells.
“Individuals using private wells aren’t testing their wells. Only about 10 percent [of private wells] are being tested annually. That’s worrisome.
“I implore [private well owners]: Do whatever they have to do to test their well water on an annual basis. There’s a lot at stake with regard to public health.”
With nitrates, arsenic and other contaminants that couldn’t be measured only a few years ago – the industrial byproduct PFA, which is increasingly being found in groundwater in northeast Wisconsin, for example – there is “way too much at stake.”
“You want to know what’s in your water,” he said. “You have to know what’s in your water. We don’t like what we’re finding.”
Cole praised the state Department of Health Services for setting a new standard – 20 parts per trillion – for PFAs. That’s equal to four drops of PFA in an Olympic-sized pool — “but those four drops will do harm to anybody,” Cole added. It’s also lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard of 70 parts per trillion.
Concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are another concern of Cole’s. He noted that over the last eight years, 110 new, huge commercial farms were begun in Wisconsin and about two-thirds of them were located in only two or three northeast Wisconsin counties where tests have confirmed increasing groundwater contamination.
Allowing that number of CAFOs in one region failed the “common sense” test, because soil and rock formations in that area “leak like a sieve,” Cole added.
Although legislators considered moving regulation of CAFOs from DNR to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Cole said EPA expects his agency to continue to regulate them.
DNR will hire four more scientists — “more eyes and ears” — to focus on CAFOs, Cole added.
Reversing a Walker Administration policy, Cole also said DNR scientists will present their findings on these important issues to legislators. “We will give legislators the science behind what they are debating,” Cole vowed.
On the issue of lead laterals connected to homes in cities like Milwaukee, Evers recommended borrowing $40 million to help homeowners statewide replace water lines in some 130 municipalities in the state.
Republican legislators killed that plan, however.
One Republican, Rep. David Steffen, said Green Bay replaced all its lead-lined laterals without relying on state help. Milwaukee and leaders of other cities should follow that example, Steffen added.
But Cole said lead is especially harmful to children under six and pregnant women.
Although there are 77,000 lead laterals just in Milwaukee, Cole said, “This is not a Milwaukee issue [or] Madison issue. This is a statewide issue. This is a crisis. Government has to step in.”
On the issue of climate change, Cole said: “It’s real.”
“Scientists are seeing extremes that we haven’t seen, as it relates to the environment, and it’s all man-made.”
But what can Wisconsin do to fight a worldwide problem?
“Lead.” Wisconsin must make land-use and infrastructure changes to confront heat waves and more violent storms that bring flood waters laced with toxic chemicals, he added.
Scientists warn that climate change could bring Wisconsin 38 days with temperatures above 90 degrees by 2050, and more than 100 days with those heat waves by 2100, Cole said. That would destroy Wisconsin’s “ecosystem,” Cole said.
“It’s going to put our economy upside down.”
More about the Lead Crisis
- Sen. Taylor Calls for Focus on Violence Prevention - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Oct 21st, 2019
- Lead Exposure Linked to Gun Violence - Corri Hess - Oct 21st, 2019
- Evers Pushes Action on Water Quality - Shamane Mills - Oct 20th, 2019
- Study Finds Link Between Childhood Exposure to Lead and Firearm Violence - University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee - Oct 18th, 2019
- EPA Proposes Updates to Rules Impacting Lead and Copper in Drinking Water - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Oct 11th, 2019
- Milwaukee awarded $5.6 million HUD grant to protect children and families from lead hazards in the home - City of Milwaukee Health Department - Oct 1st, 2019
- City Hall: Feds Award $5.6 Million for Lead Abatement - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 1st, 2019
- DHS Lead Abatement Program Receives Federal Approval - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Sep 12th, 2019
- MKE County: Committee Approves Loans for Lead Laterals - Isiah Holmes - Sep 10th, 2019
- Supervisor Weishan Demands Action to Replace Lead Laterals - Sup. John F. Weishan, Jr. - Sep 5th, 2019
- Evers Wants State Health “Lead Czar” - Erik Gunn - Jul 30th, 2019
- Gov. Evers takes action to protect children from lead exposure - Wisconsin Conservation Voters - Jul 29th, 2019
- Gov. Evers Signs Executive Order 36 Relating to Measures to Abate and Prevent Lead Exposure in Drinking Water - Gov. Tony Evers - Jul 29th, 2019
- City Hall: Outside Firm Auditing City’s Lead Program - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 29th, 2019
- Clean Drinking Water Effort Falls Short - Isiah Holmes - Jul 24th, 2019
- The State of Politics: New DNR Head Has Agenda of Change - Steven Walters - Jul 22nd, 2019
- City Hall: 1,893 Lead Service Lines Replaced - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 17th, 2019
- City Hall: Council Protects Tenants Seeking Lead Hazard Remedies - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 11th, 2019
- Council approves ordinance protecting tenants in lead-exposure investigations - Ald. Jose Perez - Jul 10th, 2019
- City Hall: Board of Health Appointments Sail Through - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 27th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Condemns Removal of Lead Service Line Replacement from Budget - State Rep. Robyn Vining - May 15th, 2019
- City Hall: Who Can Get a Free Lead Filter? - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 25th, 2019
- Chisholm Confirms Health Department Probe - Edgar Mendez - Apr 24th, 2019
- Freshwater For Life Action Coalition (FLAC) & Get The Lead Out Coalition (GTLO) Support Letter To Milwaukee County District Attorney By Milwaukee Alderpersons - Freshwater For Life Action Coalition - Apr 23rd, 2019
- City Hall: DA Asked To Consider Charging City Officials - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 22nd, 2019
- Report Urges Action on Schools’ Drinking Water - Danielle Kaeding - Apr 12th, 2019
- A House Divided: Comments from State Rep Show the Current Chasm in Wisconsin - Ald. Michael Murphy - Apr 10th, 2019
- A statement from Alderman Terry L. Witkowski following the March 22 special Public Safety and Health Committee meeting - Ald. Terry Witkowski - Mar 22nd, 2019
- City Hall: FLAC, Get the Lead Out Fight City Over Lead Posioning - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 22nd, 2019
- Special meeting devoted to lead in water issues will feature city departments - Ald. Bob Donovan - Mar 20th, 2019
- City Hall: Council Approves Civilian Health Oversight Board - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 5th, 2019
- Marquette University to host Flint water crisis author Anna Clark - Marquette University - Jan 18th, 2019
- Lead-Free Homes a Priority for Kowalik - Corri Hess - Jan 17th, 2019
- Council approves legislation concerning the Milwaukee Health Department’s lead reporting processes and water filter distribution plans - Ald. Milele Coggs - Jan 15th, 2019
- Forum Examines Lead Poisoning Prevention - Abby Ng - Nov 30th, 2018
- City Hall: City’s Lead Program is Working Again - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 16th, 2018
- League of Women Voters – Nov. 17 Public Program Addressing Lead Issues: A Milwaukee Focus - League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County - Nov 5th, 2018
- Citizens deserve to hear from Bevan Baker in public proceeding - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Oct 22nd, 2018
- Milwaukee’s Young Children Need to Be the Focus - Ald. Mark Borkowski - Sep 24th, 2018
- City Hall: Baker To Testify Before Common Council - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 14th, 2018
- Warning Residents of Lead Dangers - Jenny Whidden - Jul 18th, 2018
- Governor Walker Administration Awards More Than $26 Million for Lead Service Line Replacement in 42 Wisconsin Communities - Gov. Scott Walker - Jul 18th, 2018
- Environmental Review of City of Milwaukee Project for the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program (SDWLP) - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Jul 9th, 2018
- Environmental review of City of Milwaukee project for the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program (SDWLP) - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Jun 26th, 2018
- Common Council approves full lead hazard review for city-owned properties - Ald. Jose Perez - May 8th, 2018
- Legislation mandates lead water lines replacement at child care facilities - Ald. Milele Coggs - Apr 26th, 2018
- Child Care Centers Still Have Lead Pipes - Edgar Mendez - Apr 23rd, 2018
- Legislation looks to local source for water infrastructure needs - Ald. Milele Coggs - Apr 4th, 2018
- ‘10thirtysix ’ to re-ring the alarm bell on milwaukee’s lead crisis - Milwaukee PBS - Mar 27th, 2018
- Chief of Staff Comment on FLAC - Patrick Curley - Mar 22nd, 2018
- Evers Demands Action on Wisconsin’s Drinking Water Crisis - Gov. Tony Evers - Mar 21st, 2018
- Op Ed: How City Should Solve Lead in Water - Noelle Chesley, Anne Dressel, John Berges, and Helen Meier - Mar 2nd, 2018
- Alderman Bohl: A better strategy is needed in dealing with lead laterals - Ald. Jim Bohl - Feb 26th, 2018
- City Hall: McManus Lays Out Three Priorities for Health Department - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 23rd, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs Leading on Lead Act into Law - Gov. Scott Walker - Feb 21st, 2018
- City Hall: Mayor Allows Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 15th, 2018
- City Hall: Will Mayor Confirm Health Commissioner? - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 14th, 2018
- City Hall: HUD Halts City Lead Treatment Program - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 12th, 2018
- From Dr. Patricia McManus: Comments clarified - Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton - Feb 9th, 2018
- Comments by newly appointed interim Health Department commissioner troubling - Ald. Michael Murphy - Feb 9th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Appoints McManus Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 6th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Withdraws Nannis Nomination - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 5th, 2018
- FLAC Calls on Common Council to Confirm Dr. Patricia McManus as Interim Health Commissioner - Freshwater For Life Action Coalition - Feb 3rd, 2018
- Silence is Complicity – If You See Something, Please Say Something - Ald. Milele Coggs - Feb 2nd, 2018
- Gag Order for Health Department Employees Lifted by Mayor - Ald. Bob Donovan - Feb 1st, 2018
- Resolution Aims to Take Down Milwaukee Health Department’s Restrictive Communication Policy - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Feb 1st, 2018
- Common Council Alerts At-Risk Populations of Lead Risks After City of Milwaukee Health Department Fails to Notify Public - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 31st, 2018
- Key Details Missing from the Mayor’s Account of Lead Testing Crisis - Ald. Khalif Rainey - Jan 31st, 2018
- What We Really Need: Answers - Ald. Russell Stamper, II - Jan 31st, 2018
- The Administration has Lost the Common Council’s Confidence in Addressing the Lead Issue - Ald. Jose Perez - Jan 30th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Report Finds Health Dept. Problems - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 30th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Could Reject Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 30th, 2018
- Aldermen Ask City Attorney for Legality of Paul Nannis’ position - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 29th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $750 Million to Replace Lead Pipes - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 24th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Responds to Lead Crisis - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 23rd, 2018
- Legislation seeks lead service line replacement for city-owned properties - Ald. Bob Bauman - Jan 19th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Grills Mayor, City Health Staff - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 17th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Launches Health Dept. Probe - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 17th, 2018
- Resolution calls for Milwaukee Water to give public lead updates - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Jan 17th, 2018
- Commissioner Baker’s departure leaves us all with many, many questions - Ald. Bob Donovan - Jan 16th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Ousts Bevan Baker Over Lead Fiasco - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 12th, 2018
- Health Department mistakes worsen city’s lead crisis - Ald. Mark Borkowski - Jan 12th, 2018
- Council set to act on Health Department crisis - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 12th, 2018
- Freshwater For Life Action Coalition (FLAC) to Hold Press Conference After Announcement Of Firing Health Commissioner Bevan Baker - Freshwater For Life Action Coalition - Jan 12th, 2018
- Is City Dragging Feet on Lead Filters? - Jabril Faraj and Elliot Hughes - Jan 3rd, 2018
- Common Council Strengthens Lead Standards - Jabril Faraj - Dec 5th, 2017
- One Step Closer to Tackling Wisconsin’s Lead Crisis - State Sen. Chris Larson - Oct 31st, 2017
- Advocates Push City On Lead Pipes - Jabril Faraj - Oct 25th, 2017
- Lead Poisoning a “Public Health Crisis” - Jabril Faraj - Jul 19th, 2017
- National Water Expert Retracts Criticism of City Health Department - City of Milwaukee Health Department - Jul 14th, 2017
- Governor Walker Announces 35 Municipalities to Receive a Total of $13.8 Million to Remove Lead Service Lines - Gov. Scott Walker - Jun 28th, 2017
- Campaign Cash: WMC Opposes Lead Pipes Bill - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Apr 20th, 2017
- Op Ed: State Action Needed on Lead Pipes Problem - Chris Walker - Mar 12th, 2017
- Murphy’s Law: How Milwaukee Handled “Flint” Crisis - Bruce Murphy - Jan 19th, 2017
- Tainted Water: State’s Failures On Lead Pipes - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Jan 15th, 2017
- Tainted Water: Lax Rules Expose Kids To Lead-Tainted Water - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 19th, 2016
- Tainted Water: DNR Program Replaces Lead Laterals - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 19th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Approves Help For Lead Pipes - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 13th, 2016
- Tainted Water: DNR Delays on Lead Poisoning Issue - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 4th, 2016