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Surface Water Use Designations
Setting Goals for Water Protection

Use Designations

Under the Clean Water Act, Wisconsin waters are each assigned four "uses" that carry with them a set of goals: Fish and Aquatic Life, Recreation, Public Health and Welfare, Wildlife.

The Fish and Aquatic Life (FAL) use is further devided into several subcategories for Streams/Rivers and Lakes (See Subcategories below). Assigning the appropriate uses—for instance, determining which Fish and Aquatic Life subcategory is appropriate—is one of the first steps in managing water quality. The use designation process involves evaluation of the resource and its natural characteristics to determine the water’s highest ‘attainable’ use according to its potential.

FAL Subcategories for Streams/Rivers

  • Cold Water
  • Warm Water Sport Fish
  • Warm Water Forage Fish
  • Limited Forage
  • Limited Aquatic Life
FAL Subcategories for Lakes

  • Shallow Seepage
  • Shallow Headwater
  • Shadow Lowland
  • Deep Seepage
  • Deep Headwater
  • Deep Lowland
  • Small Lakes
  • Spring Ponds
  • Two-Story Lakes
  • Reservoirs

Designated, Existing, Attainable

Synonymous Terms

More than one term is sometimes applied to the same use category. Some synonyms you might be familiar with are:

  • Designated Use = Codified Use
  • Existing Use = Current Use
  • Attainable Use = Potential Use

A waterbody's use may be described by their status: designated, existing, or attainable

Designated uses are those uses specified in water quality standards for each waterbody or segment, whether or not they are currently attained.Ideally, the designated use is based on the attainable use.

Existing uses are those uses actually attained in the water body on or after November 28, 1975. A waterbody's Designated Use may not be lower than its Existing Use.

Attainable uses are the uses that could be attained in a waterbody by implementing appropiate point and/or nonpoint source management actions. These actions include the effluent requirements for point sources and cost-effective and reasonable best management practices for non-point source control.

A waterbody's attainable use should be the basis for determining its designated use.

Last revised: Thursday April 24 2014