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DNR Secretary Cole Says New Funding Needed To Improve Water Quality

Gov. Evers' Budget Includes $70M For Water Quality Programs, New DNR Scientists

Preston Cole speaking in La Crosse
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Preston Cole, right, says new investments in water quality programs are needed in the next state budget during a visit to La Crosse on March 1, 2019. Hope Kirwan/WPR

Gov. Tony Evers’ pick to lead the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says new investment in research is needed to understand the state’s water quality issues.

The governor’s newly announced state budget includes borrowing up to $70 million for water quality programs and hiring five new DNR scientists.

DNR Secretary Preston Cole made a stop in La Crosse County to promote the budget proposal Friday.

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La Crosse is one of several counties in the state dealing with known contamination in private wells.

Cole said the proposed funding increase shows the governor is serious about addressing water quality.

“(Evers has) put his money where his mouth is,” Cole said. “We’ve dedicated additional monies for lead lateral replacement in our cities, towns and villages, bonding authority for runoff contamination and a number of other insights and dollars and opportunities on the Back 40. Our rural communities are in dire straights.”

Evers announced earlier this month he planned to allocate $2 million to the state’s Well Compensation Grant program to help families replace or treat contaminated private wells.

Cole said investments in current infrastructure, like treating wells or replacing lead pipes, are needed to improve water issues. But he said it will take more than one approach.

“We’re going to work with each and every one of those communities that are having challenges with clean water and we’re going to write prescriptions,” Cole said. “And some of those may not require any engineering, some of those may require what we do on the land.”

Cole said he hopes to work with all stakeholders, including farmers and manufacturers. He applauded La Crosse county officials for involving different industries in their effort to address local contamination issues.

Tara Johnson, chairwoman of the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors, said she was encouraged by Evers’ budget proposal.

“Here in La Crosse County, we want to be in partnership with the state and we, maybe for awhile, have felt like we’ve been single-parenting a little bit. That we’ve been carrying our side of the work and continuing on a daily basis to provide great public health and all the other services that counties provide,” Johnson said. “It really felt for the first time in a long time that we were getting the second partner in this work.”

She said state support, science and funding are needed for local officials to address water quality problems.

Evers’ budget will have to make it through the Legislature, where it faces an uphill battle with a GOP majority that has already been strongly critical of it.

“To me, it’s a thousand-page press release, not a budget,” Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Thursday. “A lot of the items that the governor ticked off I think were kind of the greatest hits of the Democrat party.”

Republican leaders say they plan to build their own budget instead of taking up Evers’ proposal.