Water quality top priority; DNR board secretary promises

The state Department of Natural Resources’ new secretary said Wednesday that combating water pollution is his top priority.

Adam Payne attended his first meeting of the DNR’s policy board. In an introductory speech he warned that the agency may not make everyone happy but he promised he and his administration would listen to everyone.

He said that water quality is his top priority and praised Gov. Tony Evers’ call to spend another $100 million to address PFAS contamination in the state’s groundwater and drinking water.

Evers announced the plan in his State of the State address Tuesday. PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals used widely in consumer products and certain types of firefighting foam. The chemicals don't break down in the natural world and accumulate and linger in the human body for long periods. Exposure may lead to cancer and other health problems.

Evers appointed Payne in December to replace Preston Cole, who resigned as secretary in November. Payne was serving as the Sheboygan County administrator when Evers tapped him.

The board meeting also marked the first time that member Sandra Naas has been allowed to participate. Evers appointed Naas to replace Fred Prehn after Prehn's term expired in May 2021. But Prehn refused to step down until the state Senate confirmed Naas. Republicans who control the chamber never held a hearing on Naas' appointment, maintaining GOP appointees' 4-3 majority on the board.

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Prehn finally resigned in December, opening a slot for Naas to serve unless the Senate votes to oust her. Republican appointee William Bruins resigned at the end of the year. Evers replaced him with farmer Paul Buhr. His appointees now hold a 5-2 majority on the board.