Skip to main content

Areawide Water Quality Management Plan (AWQMP) Program

Water quality planning in Wisconsin occurs on many levels in many agencies. Each plan begins with monitoring to evaluate the health of Wisconsin's waters. Biologists and trained volunteers collect monitoring data on representative segments on rivers, streams and lakes across the state. Water quality data are then evaluated against water quality standards to assess conditions.

Department staff conduct studies to better define pollutant loads, sources and impairments and to develop plans that identify management activities and strategies to enhance and protect our waters.


Continuous Planning Process (CPP)

The DNR is required by section 303(e) of the Clean Water Act to develop a Continuing Planning Process (CPP) Plan. The CPP can be described as an umbrella document that coordinates all aspects of water pollution control to help ensure the states maintain progress toward protecting and preserving water quality. The state CPP is a description of the state's water quality management and planning activities, providing references to technical documents and sources that explain water quality programs in greater detail. The CPP describes ongoing processes and planning requirements of the state's Areawide Water Quality Management Plan (AWQMP).

What is an Areawide Water Quality Management Plan?

The AWQMP is not a single plan or document but rather a compilation of the guidance and programs that DNR uses to implement Clean Water Act requirements. The AWQMP Program provides a structure and foundation on which implementation activities are attached, including Sewer Service Area Plans, Wastewater Facility Plans, permits for effluent limits, stormwater plans and other projects funded through CWA monies, as well as watershed plans, which identify the condition of water and recommendations for management actions.

What is a Watershed Plan?

Watershed Plans (formerly called "Basin Plans") document and summarize the condition of the health of water resources within the area. Watershed plans incorporate information on current and changing land use, population change, water resource potential and assessments of current conditions based on biological, physical and chemical data compared to water quality standards and quality thresholds established in the guidance [see WisCALM Guidance].

Watershed plans identify ecological restoration and remediation priorities and goals of the waters and watersheds and provide recommendations for specific management actions including rivers, lakes, nonpoint source grants, monitoring and additional management actions. Watershed plans are updated on a rotating basis, with a higher priority, targeted focus on areas with known issues related to restoration, protection or management. Several watersheds are currently in the assessment and recommendation phase.

What is a Sewer Service Area Plan?

Sewer Service Area Planning is a process designed to anticipate a community's future needs for wastewater treatment. This planning helps protect communities from adverse water quality impacts through the development of cost-effective and environmentally sound 20-year sewerage system growth plans. A sewer service area plan identifies existing sewered areas as well as adjacent land most suitable for new development. This planning also identifies areas where sewers should not go: environmentally sensitive areas where development would have an adverse impact on water quality. Search existing contracts and plans.

Plan summary

  • The CPP encompasses the broad picture of how decisions are made, how programs relate and how the public is involved.
  • Wisconsin's AWQMP concerns how programs are implemented, particularly within a specific basin or watershed -- through monitoring, assessments, grants, and more.
  • Wisconsin's Basin/Watershed Plans apply the rules, programs, guidance and identify opportunities for management actions at a catchment (basin/watershed) and water level (stream, lake, etc.).
  • Sewer Service Area Planning in "designated" and "non-designated areas" of Wisconsin refers to planning specified by NR 121, Wis. Adm. Code, for regional planning agencies or DNR contract agencies to develop and implement 20-year sewer service area plans to protect water quality through systematic sewered development.

Water planning

Water planning

The DNR implements its water quality programs in part through the Areawide Water Quality Management Plan (AWQMP) Framework, which is a compilation of guidance and programs to implement the Clean Water Act.

Certain elements have individual processes that are automatically certified as part of the state's AWQMP and other elements are transmitted in annual letters from the DNR to U.S. EPA as formal updates to the state's AWQMP. This process varies in terms of public participation, time frames and procedures. All elements are connected and the agency strives for consistency and continuity of programs for quality resource management.

Federal regulations (40 CFR 130.6) require that the plan address the following nine elements:

  1. Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).
  2. Effluent limitations — effluent limits are covered under the WPDES program administered by DNR.
  3. Municipal and industrial waste treatment.
  4. Nonpoint source management and control.
  5. Management agencies — see information about applicable laws, policies, guidance and memoranda of agreement/understanding.
  6. Implementation measures — DNR implements various measures to carry out the AWQMP within the individual water quality programs.
  7. Dredge or fill program — DNR certifies dredge and fill permits (issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) through its §401 certification program.
  8. Basin (Watershed) plans.
  9. Groundwater.

These elements are addressed in numerous documents and programs throughout the DNR. The links above provide helpful starting points for exploring more information or viewing documents related to the various elements. Additional components of DNR's WQMP include integrated reports, administrative rules, surface water monitoring and assessment programs, water quality standards and wastewater treatment programs.

Legal elements

Continuous Planning Process (CPP) state legal elements

The CPP provides a broad overview of how the state's water resources are managed. The CPP is a description of how Wisconsin manages water quality. As the name "Continuing Planning Process" implies, the CPP is an evolving process that grows and changes as circumstances change. The primary aspects of the process are laws and rules, water quality programs, water quality monitoring and assessment, implementation of water quality maintenance and restoration projects and ongoing planning.

Laws, rules and Guidance
The state's commitment to water quality protection is clear in enabling statutes and administrative rules. For more information: See: Wis. Stat. s.283.83 (continuing planning process) and Wis. Stat. s.281:

283.83(1)The department shall establish a continuing water pollution control planning process consistent with applicable state requirements. The continuing planning process shall result in plans for all waters of the state, which plans shall include:

  • 283.83(1)(a) Adequate effluent limitations and schedules of compliance;
  • 283.83(1)(b) The incorporation of all elements of any applicable areawide waste management plans, basin plans and statewide land use plans;
  • 283.83(1)(c) Total maximum daily load for pollutants;
  • 283.83(1)(d) Procedures for revision;
  • 283.83(1)(e) Procedures for intergovernmental cooperation;
  • 283.83(1)(f) Implementation procedures, including schedules of compliance, for revised or new water quality standards;
  • 283.83(1)(g) Controls over the disposition of all residual waste from any water treatment processing;
  • 283.83(1)(h) An inventory and ranking, in order of priority, of needs for construction of waste treatment works required to meet applicable requirements.

283.83(2) When the department receives for review or prepares a new plan under sub. (1) or a revision to a plan under sub. (1) that includes a proposal to return water transferred from the Great Lakes basin to the source watershed through a stream tributary to one of the Great Lakes, the department shall provide notice of the plan or revision to the governing body of each city, village, and town through which the stream flows or that is adjacent to the stream downstream from the point at which the water would enter the stream.

Water quality programs

The DNR is responsible for ensuring that the state's surface water, groundwater, wastewater and drinking water resources meet state water quality standards and federal requirements.

Monitoring and assessment

The DNR continually monitors and assesses the quality of the state's rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, groundwater and sources of drinking water. This information is used to comply with federal reporting requirements and to make decisions regarding water quality management.


The DNR uses a variety of tools to preserve and enhance (where necessary) the quality of waters. Loosely, these tools fall into three categories: permitting, preservation/restoration, and compliance and enforcement. See the individual water quality programs for more specific information regarding implementation activities in the various programs. The federal and state Environmental Performance Partnership Agreement (ENPPA) and the state's Quality Management Plan (QMP).


While some plans or planning processes are required by state (e.g., DNR's water quality strategic plan) or federal (e.g., water quality management planning and Continuing Planning Process) law, DNR's ongoing planning is based on federal law, state statutes, regulatory codes and program guidance.

Public involvement

Public involvement is at the center of many processes and is especially prevalent during the development of rules, permits, regulatory actions, creating laws and rules, monitoring, assessing and reporting on the quality of waters, and implementing measures to restore and maintain water quality. Inherent in this loop is continual feedback, improvement and change.

Federal Regulations

Continuous Planning Process (CPP) Code of Federal Regulations

Federal regulations (40 CFR 130.5) state that the following nine processes must be addressed by the CPP. These requirements and how DNR has addressed them are described briefly below.

  1. Limit the number of pollutants discharged to surface water from point sources such as industrial sites and publicly owned treatment works ("effluent limits"). These limitations and schedules are covered under the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES), which is operated by the DNR.
  2. Develop and incorporate elements from any area-wide waste treatment plans and basin plans when undertaking statewide planning. DNR implements basin (watershed) wide and statewide planning with its Integrated Report, watershed reports and related data-gathering processes. These reports provide the water quality status of all Wisconsin waters, helps DNR set priorities, and are the basis for writing total maximum daily loads, which are subbasin specific. Advisory groups and watershed advisory groups help guide the planning and implementation process.
  3. Develop water quality improvement plans (TMDLs) for water bodies that do not meet Wisconsin water quality standards.
  4. Update and maintain the water quality management plan (WQMP) comprised of various programs and guidance documents. The WQMP is discussed in more detail below.
  5. Ensure intergovernmental cooperation in the implementation of the state water quality management program through state laws, regulations and memoranda of understanding/agreement. The DNR is granted authority to implement its water quality management program through state laws and regulations and through primacy from EPA.
  6. Establish and ensure the implementation of new or revised water quality standards for surface water to protect the public and restore the quality of surface waters. The standards are the benchmarks that waters are compared to when determining the need for TMDLs or antidegradation measures. DEQ's §401 certification program ensures federally permitted or licensed activities meet water quality standards, while continuously monitoring and assessment provide feedback on the achievement of water quality standards.
  7. Ensure adequate control of residual waste from water treatment processing. To control residual waste from water treatment processing, DNR approves or disapproves plans for wastewater treatment and disposal facilities, issues wastewater land application permits and provides §401 certification of federal WPDES permits (issued by DNR).
  8. Develop an inventory and ranking in priority order of needs for construction of waste treatment works. This annual priority list helps identify projects that qualify for construction loan funds. Learn more about wastewater loans.
  9. Determine the priority of permit issuance. This process is covered under the WPDES program, which is operated by DNR.