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Why we regulate
Learn what types of wastewater discharges are regulated and how.
Plan review
The DNR reviews plans for municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plant construction.
Discharge permits
Wastewater discharges to surface or groundwater.
Contact information
For more information on wastewater regulation, contact:
Jason Knutson
Wastewater Section Chief
Water Quality Bureau

Regulation of wastewater discharges

In 1972, the United States Congress passed the Federal Water Act. The law authorized the US EPA to delegate certain water pollution control responsibilities to any state that could demonstrate the necessary levels of expertise and authority to administer the program. Wisconsin obtained EPA delegation in 1974.

The Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit program was established by Chapter 283.13(1), Wisconsin Statutes. In Wisconsin, WPDES permits are issued by the DNR Bureau of Water Quality, with federal oversight from the US EPA. The permit program is administered by the Department, with the Office of the Attorney General providing legal resources for the Department in enforcement activities. The Department is responsible for the issuance, reissuance, modification, and enforcement of all WPDES permits issued for discharges into the waters of Wisconsin (except discharges occurring on Native American lands which are regulated directly by EPA). Wisconsin regulates discharges to both groundwater and surface water; EPA only requires regulation of surface water discharges. No person may legally discharge to waters of the state without a permit issued under this authority.

Facilities discharging wastewater from a specific point (end of a pipe) must meet either the federal minimum requirements for secondary treatment for municipalities and technology-based categorical (or base level) limits for industries; or, the discharges must meet levels necessary to achieve water quality standards, whichever is more stringent. Land disposal systems also receive permits with limits established to protect groundwater. WPDES permits also address the land application of municipal and industrial wastewater sludge deemed safe for landspreading.

Wastewater treatment plant plan review authority exists in s. 281.41, Wis. Stats. This authority results in the required review of municipal and industrial treatment plant construction plans as well as related monitoring systems and groundwater monitoring wells. The Department has 90 days to review the plans, which must be done before construction can legally begin.

Last revised: Monday May 15 2017