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Natural Resources Secretary Designee Plans To Carry Out Governor Evers’ Clean Drinking Water Quest

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Susan Bence
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Preston Cole, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources secretary-designee, has been touring the state talking about water issues. Shown here, Cole (left) and Gov. Tony Evers (middle) in Green Bay in May.

Preston Cole is one step away from officially heading the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

While he awaits a State Senate vote on his assignment, the secretary-designee says there’s no time to waste when it comes to addressing Wisconsin’s drinking water concerns. Cole is optimistic solutions will be found. 

Momentum began when Gov. Tony Evers declared 2019 the year of clean drinking water.

READ: Evers Chats About Wisconsin's 'Year Of Clean Drinking Water'

"The stars are aligning around clean water — this governor being on the landscape, me being appointed to secretary. I get to follow that mission and put things in play to make sure environmental protections around clean water are in place," Cole says. "There is a huge following to that message."

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Credit Alesandra Tejeda
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Preston Cole says there’s no time to waste when it comes to tackling Wisconsin's environmental issues.

Old lead pipes that deliver drinking water into the homes of some Wisconsin communities are the source of one of the state's challenges. Cole says Milwaukee is one of 300 cities, towns and villages grappling with outdated infrastructure.

READ: What Does Milwaukee's Lead Service Line Replacement Mandate Mean?

“How many families are in harm’s way from lead drinking water? That should be the driving force. We can’t allow this type of damage for our youngest, most vulnerable citizens to keep going. We just have to recognize, we have to move and act now,” he says.

 

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Listen to the extended interview with DNR Secretary-designee Preston Cole, featured on Lake Effect.

While Cole spreads Evers' clean drinking water message, a bipartisan legislative task force is touring the state to gather input. The task force is holding a public hearing Tuesday, Aug. 13 in Milwaukee.

READ: Wisconsin's Water Quality: People Share Concerns & Propose Solutions At Racine Hearing

“I am extraordinarily hopeful where this will lead. When two branches of government — the governor and the Legislature — are focused on clean water, [the DNR's] responsibility is to get out of the way and advise them accordingly,” Cole says.

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Credit Alesandra Tejeda
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Smokey Bear marked his 75th birthday at the Wisconsin State Fair when we talked with DNR Secretary-designee Preston Cole.

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Preston Cole fondly recalls the opportunity he had to serve as Smokey Bear early in his career, after graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in forestry management. Note - according to the National Park Service there is no "the" in Smokey's official name.

Have an environmental question you'd like WUWM's Susan Bence to investigate? Submit below.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.