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Triennial Standards Review

Helping improve Wisconsin's surface water quality

Online ranking form now available

Complete an online topic ranking form [exit DNR] to provide your opinions on which of 14 topics related to surface water quality standards should be our priorities for the upcoming three years.

The ranking form and other comments may be submitted until December 4, 2020. Written comments may be submitted to Meghan Williams.


Every three years, the DNR reviews Wisconsin's water quality standards or related guidance to determine which standards need development or revision, as required by the federal Clean Water Act. This comprehensive evaluation, called the Triennial Standards Review (TSR) [PDF], is an essential process to keep Wisconsin's surface waters swimmable, fishable and drinkable.

This review helps DNR staff focus efforts to integrate the latest science, technology and federal requirements into how the state regulates water quality. In addition, the review assists the staff with work-planning and identifying needed actions for moving projects forward. Water quality standards act as guidelines for setting an appropriate level of protection for Wisconsin's lakes, rivers and streams.

Components of water quality standards reviewed as part of the Triennial Standards Review include the following:

  • designated uses – goals and expectations established for each waterbody
  • water quality criteria – narrative and numeric benchmarks established to protect the designated uses
  • antidegradation – policy or procedure established to protect high-quality waters
  • water quality variances – short-term changes to permit limits or water quality standards when criteria are unattainable.

Triennial Review Process

Diagram of the triennial review process

Step 1: Gather topic suggestions related to water quality standards from internal staff, external partners and the general public. Compile a list of relevant topics.

Step 2: Solicit public input to rank topics by priority using an online topic ranking form.

Step 3: Provide a public hearing (webinar) to answer questions about the topics and the prioritization process.

Step 4: Use public input to help prioritize topics and draft a workplan for the next three years.

Step 5: Begin work on the prioritized topics.

Upcoming cycle: 2021-2023

Step 1 of the new cycle, Topic Suggestions, is now complete.

To kick off the cycle, we put a call out for suggestions of topics related to surface water quality standards that may need review or development in the upcoming three years. This helped us prepare the list of topics for prioritization in step 2.

Steps 2 and 3 are now underway: Topic Ranking Form and Public Hearing.

NOTE: See the box at the top of this page for links to the online ranking form, topic descriptions and hearing.

  • An online topic ranking form is available to the public from October 13 to December 4, 2020. The form will allow the public to weigh in on which topics they feel DNR should focus on in the next three years.
  • An online webinar/hearing was held on Monday, November 16, 2020 to describe the topics under consideration, answer questions and take any comments on which topics attendees feel should be priorities. View the slides here. Comments will also be accepted in writing from October 13 to December 4, 2020.

Under Step 4, the topics on the list will be prioritized.

Using feedback from the ranking form and hearing, as well as from internal staff and technical partners, the top priority items will be selected for our work plan for the next three years.

Previous Cycles

Information about previous cycles is available below. Work on topics begun in previous cycles will continue until work is completed.