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Business Permits and Reporting Requirements

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requires a variety of different permits, licenses, procedures and reporting depending on your business activities.

Commonly regulated activities
  • Burning fuel in an emergency generator, boiler or other machinery
  • Dispensing fuel
  • Operating commercial refrigeration equipment
  • Creating dust, eg. sawdust, sanding, dust from gravel roads
  • Disturbing land
  • Storing materials outside where they are exposed to storm water
  • Discharging water
  • Working with or storing solvents
  • Painting, coating and printing
  • Using large quantities of water
  • Providing well water to employees or customers
  • Maintaining vehicles and machinery
  • Disposing of hazardous waste, batteries, fluorescent bulbs and pesticides
Air Emissions

If your facility's operations generate air emissions, there may be permitting and reporting requirements that apply. Air emissions come in two forms: emissions that come from a specific point like a smokestack or an exhaust fan and emissions that are more dispersed like evaporation from a process or dust stirred up by truck traffic. Air Pollution Basics can help get you started.

All the emissions from your facility need to be added up to determine if they exceed permitting and/or reporting thresholds which vary by the type of chemical. Additional process-specific requirements may apply regardless of emission levels.

Permits – Air permits are required for both the construction and the operation of air pollution sources that exceed emission thresholds. See Air Permit Options to determine if a specific permit type is right for you or if you can file for a permit exemption. Once you decide, here is how to apply.

Reporting – If you emit more than the reporting threshold of certain chemicals, your emissions need to be reported to the DNR regardless of whether you have an air permit. A chemical look-up tool and a downloadable list of reporting thresholds are available.

For complete information on how to report your air emissions complete with tutorials and links to the Air Reporting System, see Air Emissions Inventory and Reporting.


Water is an important resource that impacts the citizenry and environment of Wisconsin. It is all our responsibility to ensure safe and clean drinking, ground and surface water. Depending on your industry or operations, you may need a permit or be required to report about your water use, contamination and/or discharges.

Water Use - If your facility uses a significant amount of water, or meets certain conditions of a registered withdrawer, you may be required to report how much water your facility uses annually. Registered withdrawers include: all high capacity well properties; permitted surface water withdrawals; properties with a Water Use Permit in the Great Lakes Basin; and properties that withdrew an average of 100,000 gallons per day or more in any 30-day period. More information can be found on Water Use.

Drinking Water - If your facility provides drinking water that does not come from a municipality to employees or customers, regularly serves an average of at least 25 individuals daily at least 60 days out of the year, or your water system has at least 15 service connections, there are several requirements to ensure that you are providing safe water. More information can be found on Public Drinking Water Systems.

Wastewater - If your facility discharges wastewater anywhere other than to a municipal wastewater treatment plant, you need a permit under the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES). Each type of permit comes with its own set of monitoring and reporting requirements. More information about wastewater reporting requirements can be found on Wastewater Permits. There are WPDES permits specifically for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to ensure that non-point source pollution measures are effective. More information can be found on CAFO Permitting.

Storm Water Runoff - Storm water permits come in two forms: construction and industrial. If your facility is taking on a project that will disturb an acre or more of land, you will need a construction site storm water permit that requires development of a storm water management plan and weekly site inspections. See Construction Site Storm Water Permits for more information.

On-going storm water requirements apply to a wide array of businesses that may need to follow storm water permitting, inspection and reporting requirements designed to protect water quality. If your business falls into one of the covered sectors, you are required to obtain a permit or no exposure certification regardless of whether you are exposing materials to rain or snow melt. More information can be found on Industrial storm water permits.

Dams - If your facility owns or operates a dam, you can learn about regulations, permits, inspections and grants on Dam Safety.


Whether waste is hazardous or not, rules may apply to how it is stored, transported, recycled and disposed. Waste Overview provides good background for all businesses.

Hazardous waste - If your facility generates hazardous waste, you may be required to report how much waste is generated. The report covers activity during the previous calendar year and must be submitted through the online system by March 1 of the following year. More information can be found on Hazardous Waste Annual Reporting.

If your facility transports or offers to transport hazardous waste for offsite treatment, recycling, storage or disposal, you are required to use the uniform hazardous waste manifest for documentation and reporting. More information can be found on Hazardous Waste Manifest.

Please note that if you are required to report your hazardous waste generation and transportation, you need to notify the DNR and get an EPA ID number ahead of time. More information about these requirements can be found on Hazardous Waste Notification.

Universal waste - Some forms of hazardous waste have been specially classified as "universal waste" and have simpler handling requirements. Universal wastes include:

  • hazardous waste batteries, such as lithium, nickel-cadmium, silver oxide and lead-acid;
  • hazardous waste pesticides that are either recalled or collected in waste pesticide collection programs;
  • thermometers and mercury-containing equipment;
  • hazardous waste lamps, such as fluorescent bulbs; and
  • antifreeze, which is a Wisconsin-specific universal waste if it is recycled.

Check out the management of universal waste in Wisconsin to learn how to manage these waste streams.


Spills of any hazardous substance that adversely impacts or threatens to impact human health, welfare or the environment require an immediate response. Note that in certain contexts, a substance that might not seem hazardous can actually be hazardous to the environment. A classic example is a milk tanker spilling into a Class 1 trout stream – while milk does not seem hazardous at first, a large spill can devastate the trout ecosystem. Many types of spill incidents require immediate reporting to the 24-hour toll-free hotline: 1-800-943-0003. Federal reporting may also be required. To learn more, check out spills.

Green Tier

If your facility has been on top of its compliance obligations and taken the next step to move beyond compliance by joining the Green Tier program, there are some reporting requirements that are designed to help you demonstrate your commitment to superior environmental performance. Green Tier participants need to annually report on their environmental sustainability efforts by connecting their goals to superior environmental performance. They must also use a third-party report to demonstrate that their environmental management system is effective in helping them move the needle towards continual improvement. More information can be found on Green Tier Annual Reporting.