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Water quality standards

DNR Biologist
USGS Gage Station.

Our water quality may be impacted by many different sources and types of pollution. Under the Clean Water Act, every state must adopt water quality standards to protect, maintain and improve the quality of our nation’s surface waters. These standards set the appropriate level of protection by:

  • determining the types of activities the water should support by establishing designated uses[learn more].
  • developing water quality criteria to protect these uses from excess pollution [learn more].
  • establishing an antidegradation policy to maintain and protect existing uses and high quality waters [learn more], and
  • identifying general policies to implement these protection levels in point source discharge permits [learn more].

Water quality standards are important because they help water quality managers protect and restore the quality of Wisconsin´s surface waters.

Any interested individual can have a role in the process of developing water quality standards. Wisconsin DNR reviews and, as appropriate, revises water quality standards at least once every three years. To find out more about this process and how you can be involved, visit our triennial standards review page

When revisions to water quality standards are proposed, the public is notified of these revisions and a public hearing is held to gather input and comments. Water Quality Standards rules that are currently under development include:

  • Revisions to the processes that DNR uses to classify and assess the state’s waters. This include adjustments to Wisconsin’s designated uses, development of biocriteria and creation of a process for selecting site-specific criteria for phosphorous. For a brief description of these revisions, visit our DUBC rule revisions page.
  • Revisions to Wisconsin’s designated use and water quality criteria for recreation. For a brief description of this revision, visit our recreation water quality standards revisions page.

Water quality standards also support efforts to achieve and maintain protective water quality conditions, including:

  • The development of reports that document current water quality conditions [learn more]
  • The establishment of permit limits for wastewater discharges to protect the State’s waters [learn more].
  • The development of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) analyses which determine how much pollutant reduction is needed in a watershed to protect water quality [learn more].
  • The development of water quality management plans which prescribe the regulatory, construction and management activities necessary to meet the water body goals [learn more].
Contact information
For more information contact:
Sarah Yang
Environmental toxicologist
Kristi Minahan
Water quality standards specialist

Last revised: Thursday February 08 2018