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Frequently asked questions

Permit primer

Water supply

I have concerns about water quality. What resources are available?
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has a Drinking water webpage designed to answer a variety of water quality issues.

Must I hire a licensed well driller?
You are allowed to drive or drill a well on property that you own. Otherwise, you must hire a licensed well driller and/or pump installer. If, for instance you hire a person to oversee a building project (general contractor), the person or business that drives or drills the well must be licensed by the State of Wisconsin.

I won't be drinking the water flowing into my place of business. Do I still need to have it tested?
Yes. If you will have a flowing water supply to your building, you must have an approved potable water supply.

What business activities could cause my business to need water?
Your small business may need water for such basic services such as restroom facilities (toilets, sinks, showers), break rooms (coffeemaker, sinks), or fire suppression (sprinkler systems, standpipes) to process water needed for complex business operations.

Storm water management

1) Why do I need a storm water permit? What types of permits are there?
The goal of the Storm Water Program is to prevent the movement of pollutants to Wisconsin's water resources by way of runoff. To achieve this goal, there are two types of storm water permits: Construction and Industrial. Construction permits focus in on land disturbing activities that your business may perform when building or expanding. Industrial permits focus on the activities that occur as part of normal business operations (outside storage of materials, utilization of heavy equipment).

2) When do I need a storm water permit? Do I always need a storm water permit?
A construction storm water permit is required for land disturbing activities greater than or equal to one acre. An industrial storm water permit is required depending on what type of business you run (Tier 1 or Tier 2). A permit is not required for non-exposure conditions.

3) How much do the permits cost?
$260 for a tier 1 industrial general permit; $130 for a tier 2 industrial general permit.

The construction site storm water discharge permit fee is based on the area of land disturbance, from $240 — $800.

4) Generally, when do I need to submit my storm water permit application?
Submittal information is contained in the permit application. Please read your permit application carefully to determine when to submit various portions. Permit applications can be downloaded as Adobe Acrobat PDFs from the Permit Primer web pages.

5) When is an industrial NOI (for industrial storm water discharges) to be submitted to the Department for a newly constructed industrial facility regulated under subch. II of NR 216?
An industrial NOI must be sent to the Department at least 14 days prior to industrial storm water discharge (not construction activities) and an industrial Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) be developed and a SWPPP summary sent to the Department prior to initiating construction. The NOI and an SWPPP example plan can be downloaded from the Permit Primer website or from the Storm Water Runoff website.

6) When is a construction site NOI (for construction site storm water discharges) to be submitted to the Department?
A construction site NOI must be submitted to the Department at least 14 working days prior to any land disturbing activities.

8) If my business closes or moves, what do I need to do about my industrial storm water discharge permit?
A Notice of Termination (NOT) (3400-170) must be submitted to the Department for businesses that close or change ownership. If the business is moving, an Notice of Intent (NOI) (3400-163) must also be filed for the new location.

9) How do I know if my business will fall under a Tier 1 or 2 level?
A business's Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Code determines which tier level the business will be regulated under. It will not be necessary for you to know your SIC code(s) when using the Permit Primer.


The basic steps involved in issuing a non–controversial WPDES permit take DNR staff anywhere from seven months to one year to complete.

Granting of a permit allows discharge:

  • to a surface water;
  • through a storm sewer;
  • to a land disposal system; or
  • to a publicly owned waste treatment works (POTW).
Solid waste

What is waste?
The Wisconsin statutes define waste quite broadly. A waste is any liquid, solid or gaseous material that can no longer be used for its originally intended purpose because it has become contaminated or has been used in some process.

A waste is also defined as any material which is still usable for its originally intended purpose but which you decide to discard. For example, you may have purchased a container of a solvent and discover that you do not need it. The solvent is a waste once you decide to get rid of it. Similarly, if you spill the solvent in your backyard, the contaminated soil is a waste if you have to have it removed for disposal (or treatment). Moreover, it may be a hazardous waste. If you discard a rag used to mop up the solvent, the rag may also be a hazardous waste.

Hazardous waste

What is waste?
The Wisconsin statutes define waste quite broadly. Basically, a waste is any liquid, solid, or gaseous material that can no longer be used for its originally intended purpose because it has become contaminated or has been used in some process.

A waste is also defined as any material which is still usable for its originally intended purpose but which you decide to discard. For example, you may have purchased a container of fresh carbon tetrachloride and discover that you do not need it. The carbon tetrachloride is a waste once you decide to get rid of it. Similarly, if you spill carbon tetrachloride in your backyard, the contaminated soil is a waste if you have to have it removed for disposal (or treatment). Moreover, it may be a hazardous waste. If you discard a rag used to mop up the solvent, the rag may also be a hazardous waste.

What is a hazardous waste?
If a material meets the definition of a waste, you then need to determine whether it is hazardous or non–hazardous. The regulations define hazardous waste in two ways: listed hazardous waste and characteristic hazardous waste (see "Definitions" and Small Business Hazardous Waste for details on listed and characteristic hazardous wastes)

How can I eliminate the guesswork in identifying hazardous wastes?

  • Check information from suppliers–e.g., container labels, invoice descriptions or Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)-information about the characteristics of chemicals may help determine if the waste from a relatively simple process is a characteristic waste due to the nature of the chemicals that are used. Under the Hazard Communication Rule administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, chemical manufacturers and distributors of hazardous materials must supply an MSDS for their products.
  • Contact other businesses with the same or similar operations.
  • Contact your trade association.
  • Finally, in order to determine if your waste is hazardous, it may be appropriate to have it tested by a private laboratory. Many transporters and treatment and disposal facilities require test results. Appendix D contains a list of commercial laboratories certified by the DNR Office of Technical Services. The Office of Technical Services also publishes, "A User's Guide to Laboratory Services." Call 608–266–0531 to order a copy. Select a laboratory that uses EPA approved testing methods. Standards for these tests can be found in publications such as the EPA's "Test Methods for Evaluating Solid Waste" (Document SW–846) which is available from the following sources:

National Technical Information
Service (NTIS)
5285 Port Royal Road
Springfield VA 22161

What are some questions to ask when hiring a laboratory?

  • Are you certified by the DNR?
  • Will you provide suitable containers for samples?
  • Does your service include: sample collection, transportation, analysis and test results?
  • Which treatment, storage, disposal facilities (TSD) and haulers will accept your results?
  • When can samples be delivered to your laboratory and where? and what's the turnaround time?
  • If I collect the samples, will the lab provide guidance on how to collect, store and transport it?
  • If there is any material left over, am I responsible or will the lab take care of disposing of it?

The quality of the laboratory results depends on both sampling and testing. Be sure to get a representative sample to send to the laboratory. Again, the purpose of having your waste tested is to assist you in identifying it as accurately as possible.

Call your DNR Hazardous Waste Specialist if you are still unable to determine whether or not the waste is hazardous. If you generate acutely hazardous waste, contact your DNR hazardous waste specialist for additional help.

What is the satellite accumulation rule?
There is a limited exception to the 180-day storage rule called the satellite accumulation rule. Up to 55 gallons of hazardous waste (or 1 quart of acute hazardous waste) can be exempt from the 180-day requirement if it is kept at or near the place of generation and is under the operator's control at all times. While the waste is accumulating at this satellite accumulation point, the container must be marked with the words "Hazardous Waste" or other words identifying the contents of the container. Once the container is full, the waste must be removed from the satellite accumulation point and/or once more than 55 gallons has been accumulated, the 180-day provision goes into effect.

To ensure that the wastes are handled safely during the 180-day accumulation period, certain management requirements must be met. These management requirements do not apply to very small quantity generators, although following them will ensure a safer working environment.

How should I handle storage containers?

Containers must:

  • not leak — in the event of a leak, the waste should be transferred immediately to a container in good condition.
  • be made or lined with materials which will not react with or be incompatible with the hazardous waste.
  • be maintained in good condition.
  • not be opened, handled or stored in a manner which may rupture the container or cause it to leak.
  • be covered at all times except when adding or removing waste.
  • be labeled "Hazardous Waste" with the accumulation start date.
  • be inspected weekly to ensure they are not leaking.

How can I be prepared for and prevent emergencies?
At a minimum, you should have the following equipment and procedures in place:

  • an internal communication or alarm system capable of providing immediate warning to facility personnel;
  • a telephone or two–way radio capable of summoning emergency assistance;
  • portable fire extinguishers, fire control equipment, spill control equipment, and decontamination equipment;
  • enough water to provide for emergency response;
  • an equipment testing program to ensure that it is ready for an emergency; the equipment must be readily available to all employees handling hazardous waste; and
  • adequate aisle space for movement of emergency equipment and personnel.

You must make arrangements with emergency responders. First, you should invite your county emergency government director, the local police, fire department and emergency medical services personnel to the facility and familiarize them with the layout, the waste handled at the facility and the evacuation routes. Where there is more than one police or fire department that will respond to an emergency, one department should be the designated lead.

Second, you should contact local hospitals and acquaint them with the types of injuries or illnesses that might result from fires, explosions, or releases of the hazardous waste at your facility. If a state or local authority fails to participate in the arrangements, you should document that failure in your records.

Consult the DNR for advice on how to prevent accidents in your facility.

How long must I keep my documentation?
Maintain the following records for a minimum of three years

  • manifests;
  • manifest exception reports;
  • license application;
  • license renewal;
  • lab or analytical reports;
  • training documents;
  • inspection logs; and
  • Land Disposal Restriction (LDR) forms.

The department also strongly recommends keeping pertinent material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and correspondence.

Air management

What business activities could cause my business to need an air permit?

  • Use or manufacture of adhesives, paints, inks, other solvents or solvent containing materials.
  • Heating with any fuels (not including electricity).
  • Any grinding, sanding, welding, material handling or any other activity that creates dust (particulate matter) or fumes.

What is an air permit anyway?
Air permits are legal documents that itemize operation and federal and state emission limits, monitoring, record keeping and reporting requirements for larger air pollution sources. The Department of Natural Resources issues several types of permits, including traditional construction and operation permits, as well as general permits and registration permits. Traditional permits include all the specific air regulations that a source is expected to comply with. General Permits and Registration Permits contain all the air regulations that apply to the category of industry which they cover.

Prior to issuing a permit, Department of Natural Resources staff write a "Preliminary Determination" document that allows us to make a decision about whether to allow this type of operation to start or continue to operate. Staff usually perform source–specific modeling of the pollutants listed in the permit application before issuing a permit for a source. All these documents are public and can be viewed at the local Air Management office. Copies are also available for a small photocopying fee. The public has the right to comment on the permits prior to issuance. A public notice is printed in the local newspaper in the area where the facility is located, which starts a 30–day public comment period. Operation permits are scheduled to be renewed every five years.

Registration Permits and General permits are issued to cover source categories instead of individual sources. These permits undergo the same review and public comment processes as traditional permits. After they are issued, facilities fill out questionnaire–like applications to ensure that they meet the eligibility requirements of the General or Registration Permit they are applying for. The department may then "grant coverage" under the permit. Coverage decisions must be made within 15 days of DNR's receipt of an application. Registration Permits do not need to be renewed. General Permits are renewed every 5 years.

Why do some facilities have permits and others don't?
All facilities that emit air pollution need an air pollution control permit unless they can show they are exempt. The air program is divided into a construction permit program and an operation permit program. Construction permits must be issued before a new facility can begin breaking ground or before existing facilities add or change equipment. These permits authorize construction projects for up to 18 months before they expire. The construction permit conditions then roll into operation permits. Operation permits are issued to cover the continued operation of an entire facility. They contain all the regulations that cover any existing equipment as well as the regulations from construction permits.

Many facilities are exempt from construction and/or operation permit requirements. Some facilities are exempt based on what they do. Others are exempt based on the amount of air pollution emitted. Usually exemptions involve a combination of the type of facility and the amount of emissions. The DNR's permit primer, the website where you are currently located, is an online tool that leads both existing facilities and new operations through the process of figuring out if a permit is needed. If you prefer to talk to a staff person, contact your DNR service center and ask for an air program permit engineer. Small businesses can also visit the Small Business Environmental Assistance Program website or contact SBEAP by phone at 1–855–889–3021.