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Plan Review for Municipal and Other Non-Industrial Wastewater Systems

In accordance with s. 281.41, Wis. Stats., the owners of sewerage systems must submit plans and obtain plan approval from the DNR for "reviewable projects" consisting of new construction or modification of sewerage system components including sanitary sewers, wastewater pumping stations, wastewater treatment plants and effluent outfall sewers.

Projects not reviewed by DNR

The information here pertains to any municipal or non-industrial sewerage system with the exception of building plumbing, the service pipes from buildings to municipally owned sewers and small "Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems" ("POWTS") that are regulated by the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS). Certain POWTS are subject to both DSPS and DNR regulation (more at large POWTS and POWTS receiving a combination of domestic and non-domestic wastewater).

Planning and construction

Plans for sewerage system projects generally consist of two phases. The first phase is the facility planning study and the second phase is preparation of construction plans and specifications. For certain collection system projects or other minor upgrades, the two phases may be combined into one submittal. See the guidance for Wastewater Facility Planning Studies for more information.

The construction of a sewerage system project may not commence until a written department approval is issued for the construction plans and specifications. Starting construction without an approval is a violation of s. 281.41, Wis. Stats. The penalty for such a violation may be a forfeiture of not less than $10 and up to $5,000 for each violation, in accordance with s. 299.97, Wis. Stats.

Plan submittal and review procedures

Final plans and specifications for municipal and other non-industrial sewerage system projects must be submitted under the signature and seal or stamp of a professional engineer registered in Wisconsin. The engineer's seal or stamp, signature and date must be provided on the cover sheet of bound plans and the cover page of bound specifications. Separate sheets of plans or specifications should each have a seal or stamp, signature and date. In accordance with s. A-E 8.10, Wis. Adm. Code, a professional engineer should only sign, seal or stamp documents that they have prepared or that were prepared under their personal direction and control.

Plan submittals should be mailed to:

Jason Knutson
Wastewater Section Chief
Wisconsin DNR - WY/3
PO Box 7921
Madison WI 53707-7921

The content for various types of submittals is outlined in the Plan Submittal Requirements Guidance. Construction plans and specifications should be submitted to the department at least 90 days prior to the date upon which the construction is planned to commence.

Timelines for DNR review

In accordance with s. 281.41(1)(b), Wis. Stats., the department has 90 days from the time of receipt of complete plans to examine and take action to approve, approve conditionally or reject plans. The time period for review may be extended by agreement with the owner if the plans and specifications cannot be reviewed within the specified time limitation due to circumstances beyond the control of the department or in the case of extensive installation involving expenditures of $350,000 or more. The extension shall not exceed six months. A submittal that is incomplete may be returned to the applicant, or the submittal may be retained but the review is placed "on hold" until necessary supplemental information is submitted. After a plan review is completed and a determination made to approve or reject, a department letter will be mailed to the sewerage system owner, with a copy to the project engineer.

Although the statute provides a 90-day review period, most sewer and lift station reviews are completed within two weeks.

An expedited review process is available for certain wastewater treatment plant projects, see expedited plan review.

Content and format of construction plans and specifications

It is important that a transmittal letter from the owner or project engineer be included with all submittal packages to ensure proper processing. The transmittal letter should clearly identify the type of submittal and include a request for department plan approval. Any submittal that is a revision or addition to a previous submittal should be identified as such. If not submitted directly by the sewerage system owner, the person submitting should describe their relationship to the owner. Submittals must be from the owner or a person authorized by the owner, or the submittal must contain a letter from the owner indicating their approval. It may also be beneficial to briefly describe any unique circumstances or special variance request in the transmittal letter. The various submittal types and the complete content of submittal packages are described in the Plan Submittal Requirements Guidance.

The acceptable format and content of plans and specifications are described in ss. NR 108.04(2)(f), NR 110.06 and NR 110.07, Wis. Adm. Code. Additional requirements for sewer and lift station projects are in s. NR 110.10(3), and s. NR 110.11(2), Wis. Adm. Code, respectively. In general, plan drawings should be numbered, cross-referenced as necessary, drawn with a suitable indicated scale, and clearly show connections and relations to elements of existing sewerage systems. The department prefers that reduced-size drawings (11-by-17 inches) be submitted. The maximum size allowed is 24-by-36 inches. In addition, one electronic copy is required. The plans and specifications should provide all the necessary information for construction of the project.

Design requirements and code variance requests

Plans and specifications should conform to previously approved facility plan studies. Any differences from the facility plan recommendations should be identified and justified. If significant revisions are proposed, a separate facility plan amendment review and approval may be required.

Plan and specification submittals should include a design report. For treatment facilities, the report should address hydraulic and other pollutant design loadings, sizing of treatment units and pump capacities, and contain design calculations for major treatment units. Designs will be evaluated for conformance with the detailed design requirements for various unit processes contained in ch. NR 110, Wis. Adm. Code. Design criteria in ch. NR 110, Wis. Adm. Code, are generally premised on particular circumstances or assumptions, and proposed units not fitting the code criteria presumptions will be reviewed on a case-specific basis. Designs should reflect accepted engineering practices. Allowances for code variances may be specifically addressed in the code, or may be generally requested in accordance with s. NR 110.04, Wis. Adm. Code.

Wastewater system approvals are not product approvals

The department conducts reviews for specific projects and issues plan approvals to the legal owner of the sewerage system. Although certain products may be included and examined as part of these reviews, the department does not issue approvals directly to manufacturers or suppliers for proprietary products. Construction plans and specifications should not consist of manufacturer or supplier literature that contains proprietary names or symbols. The department will not place state approval stamps on manufacturer literature.

Plan approval terms and conditions

A department plan approval is a determination of compliance with certain specific Wisconsin statutes and codes (as referenced in the approval letter). It should not be construed as a department certification of treatment performance, or a determination on the issuance of a WPDES permit, or an approval of other activities that may require separate permitting actions.

An issued approval for a collection system project is valid for four years after the approval letter date. An approval for a wastewater treatment facility project is valid for two years after the approval letter date. If the proposed construction has not commenced or if contracts for the work are not awarded within the two- or four-year approval terms, the approval becomes void. If an approved project is constructed in phases, the approval becomes void for any phase that has not commenced or had contracts awarded within the two- or four-year approval terms. If an approval becomes void, a completely new and updated submittal must be made to obtain a new department approval.

The department typically issues approval letters containing conditions that must be complied with in order to fully establish compliance with applicable statutes and administrative codes. Approval actions typically include standard conditions and may include conditions unique to a particular project. The department also reserves the right to order project changes or additions should subsequent conditions arise making this necessary for compliance with applicable state statutes or administrative rules.

Construction requirements

The standard construction plan and specification approval conditions primarily relate to the following construction related activities.

The sewerage system owner must designate a resident project inspector. The inspector shall be knowledgeable regarding the proposed construction, and be able to completely determine whether the improvements are being constructed in accordance with the department approved plans and specifications and the conditions of the approval. The inspector shall be present on the work site as needed to assure proper construction and installation of the improvements. Hiring a resident inspector does not negate the owner's responsibility to assure proper construction and installation.

A preconstruction conference must be held to familiarize the construction contractor(s) and the resident inspector(s) with the provisions and conditions of the approved plans and specifications. All projects must use erosion control measures that should also be addressed at the preconstruction conference.

For projects at existing treatment facilities, the facility must be operated effectively during construction to ensure that preconstruction treatment levels are maintained and that WPDES permit requirements are met. In many instances, the project plans and specifications may need to provide a detailed construction sequencing plan and/or identify alternative operating modes necessary to maintain treatment levels.

The department must be notified when construction commences and again when construction is completed. An approval condition will specify department contacts and may prescribe alternative notification requirements.

Plan revisions

Significant changes to project designs that occur after plans and specifications are approved, but prior to the completion of construction, should be submitted to the department as an amendment to the original approval. Any system additions or revisions occurring after construction is complete should be submitted as a new project. Minor project revisions do not need to be submitted to the department if they will not affect the facility design or operation, or devices to determine permit compliance, or public health. In general, any changed component that is specifically subject to a ch. NR 110, Wis. Adm. Code, requirement should be submitted to the department. If uncertain what constitutes a significant change, contact the applicable department plan reviewer.