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Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (POWTS)

  • Domestic wastewater is defined as the type of wastewater normally discharged from plumbing facilities in private dwellings or commercial domestic establishments and includes sanitary, bath, laundry, dishwashing, garbage disposal and cleaning wastewaters. Examples of commercial domestic establishments that generate domestic wastewater include restaurants, country clubs, mobile home parks, motels and hotels. Domestic wastewater is also commonly called sewage.
  • Industrial wastewater includes wastewater from any other source other than storm water, such as industrial processes, food processing operations, kennels, car washes, vehicle service facilities, vehicle storage facilities and milkhouses.
  • Mixed wastewater refers to a combination of domestic and industrial wastewater.

Note: The DNR's definition for industrial wastewater is the same as the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services' definition for non-domestic wastewater.

Subsurface disposal of domestic wastewater

Small wastewater systems for the underground disposal of domestic wastewater are regulated by the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS), unless that wastewater is discharged in a way that may reach surface water, in which case the design will likely also require review and approval by the DNR.

Wastewater systems for the underground disposal of domestic wastewater are regulated by the DNR if they have a design flow rate of greater than or equal to 12,000 gallons per day or an actual flow rate of greater than or equal to 8,000 gallons per day.

Subsurface disposal of mixed wastewater

A proposed wastewater system for mixed (domestic and industrial) wastewater with subsurface disposal will be reviewed jointly by the DNR and DSPS. As part of this process, the DNR will assess the nature and source of the industrial wastewater component, potential for impacts on the treatment system and groundwater quality, and recommend any supplemental preliminary treatment steps deemed necessary. If it is determined that the industrial wastewater within the resulting mixed wastewater will have characteristics similar to and no stronger than domestic wastewater, or the proposal presents minimal groundwater quality concerns, the DNR will issue a "concurrence" letter stating that discharge of the industrial wastewater component to the treatment system is acceptable. The concurrence letter will generally also request that the treatment system owner contact the appropriate DNR wastewater staff person for determination of potential need for coverage under a WPDES wastewater discharge permit. The DSPS conducts the overall review of the project construction plans/specifications. The formal approval for the proposed wastewater treatment system and subsurface disposal system must come from the DSPS (or an authorized agent of DSPS).

For projects involving on-site treatment and subsurface disposal of mixed wastewater that the DNR has preliminarily determined to be essentially equivalent to domestic wastewater in terms of potential effects on groundwater quality and public health, the owner/designer should submit a brief written letter to the DNR addressing the following points for determination on issuance of a "concurrence" notice to the DSPS.

  • Contact information of the owner and treatment system designer.
  • Address or legal description of the treatment system location.
  • General description of the overall site (if available, include a photocopy of a map showing the general project location and a site plan sketch or drawing showing pertinent features); indicate the approximate available horizontal setback distances of the treatment/subsurface discharge system from nearby buildings, property boundaries, water supply wells and any nearby resource features such as wetlands, floodplains, surface waters, etc.
  • Description of the type of activities that will produce the mixed wastewater, the general nature/characteristics of the contributing wastewater streams and approximate design flow rates.
  • Description of the treatment system and subsurface discharge system along with any proposed supplemental preliminary treatment units.
  • Description of any solid residuals generated by the industrial wastewater flow sources and how these materials will be collected/disposed.

Plan review and WPDES permit program

DNR authority for regulation of industrial (and mixed) wastewater disposal consists of two components. The Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit program authorized by Chapter 283, Wis. Stats., requires a discharge (operating) permit for all facilities that discharge industrial or mixed wastewater to surface waters or to the groundwater (via application to either the ground surface or into the subsurface). In addition, Section 281.41, Wis. Stats., requires that the DNR review and approve construction plans for all wastewater treatment systems that treat and discharge industrial wastewater.

Some types of industrial or mixed wastewater may not be acceptable for disposal through a typical subsurface system or through application to the land surface. In these instances, the industrial or mixed wastewater may be collected in a holding tank and hauled to a municipal wastewater treatment facility for disposal.

Plan submittal procedures

The design requirements for subsurface soil absorption systems receiving industrial wastewater are provided in sections NR 214.16, Wis. Adm. Code. Associated tank requirements are provided in sections NR 213.15 and NR 213.08, and applicable site investigation requirements are provided in section NR 214.20. These requirements are not the same as the Department of Safety and Professional Services regulations and, in general, are intended to enable the DNR to require designs that are more protective of groundwater and public health, as may be warranted by industrial wastewater that may pose more of a pollution risk than typical domestic wastewater. In situations where the wastewater is determined to be essentially equivalent to domestic wastewater in terms of potential effects on water quality and public health, the DNR may accept the DSPS site and design standards from chapter SPS 383 of the Administrative Code.

The acceptable format and content of plans and specifications are described in section NR 108.04(2), Wis. Adm. Code. 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 plans and specifications should provide all the necessary information for construction of the project.

An applicant may choose to provide a submittal containing preliminary or conceptual plans instead of final plans and specifications. The DNR will then provide comments and advice regarding the general acceptability of a proposal or requirements for a final design.

Submittal method

Submittals may be made electronically only or on paper and electronically. Electronic submittals less than 20MB may be made to

Mailed submittals may be made to:

Jason Knutson
Wastewater Section Manager
Wisconsin DNR - WY/3
101 S Webster St
PO Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707-7921
FAX: 608-267-2800

The plan submittal package should include (see below for further details):

  • Transmittal letter
  • Plans (drawings should be legible and of suitable scale. A plan size of 11" by 17" is preferred)
  • Specifications
  • Engineering report (if necessary).

Transmittal letter: It is important that a transmittal letter from the owner or project designer 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 DNR 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 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. If not submitted under the seal, or stamp, and signature of a professional engineer registered in Wisconsin, the transmittal letter should provide a description of the credentials and qualifications of the designer. The department may require submittal by a professional engineer in some circumstances, but this is typically not required for systems treating wastewater considered equivalent to domestic wastewater. It may also be beneficial to briefly describe any unique circumstances or special variance request in the transmittal letter.

The plans, specifications and engineering report should include the following items:

Note: This list is provided as a general outline and guidance. Additional or more specific information may be required dependent on project specific circumstances.

  • Contact information for owner and designer, or submitter.
  • Sanitary permit application made to DSPS or their delegee.
  • A project summary description including a general project location map or plan drawing.
  • A detailed description of the type of facility, or process, which produces the wastewater and the general nature of the wastewater to be discharged to the subsurface absorption system. If applicable, explain how any detrimental wastes will be segregated from the flow discharging to the absorption system.
  • Site and soil information, including the expected vertical separation distance between the infiltrative surface of the absorption system and bedrock and high groundwater. Describe the information source or basis for making this determination. Include any known information on the direction of groundwater movement in the project area.
  • Identify the separation distances from buildings, water supply wells, property boundaries and water supply service pipes. Identify the location of any other existing onsite wastewater systems and paved surfaces or structures.
  • Existing and projected future wastewater flow rates and the basis for these rates.
  • Design information and calculations demonstrating how any necessary treatment will be provided to ensure compliance with the requirements of chapters NR 140, NR 206 and NR 214 [all PDFs exit DNR], Wis. Adm. Code. For wastewater that is consider equivalent to domestic quality, conformance with Department of Safety and Professional Services site and design requirements for POWTS will constitute an adequate demonstration of compliance.
  • Plan drawings indicating existing and proposed collection, treatment and monitoring and control equipment. Piping should be labeled to indicate pipe content and flow direction. A schematic flow diagram including treatment units, monitoring and control devices should be included for more complex designs.
  • The expected amount of septage generation and how it will be disposed.
  • A draft management plan or description of the management arrangements and practices.
  • General description of the environmental features of the proposed site (identify and describe water resources and existing land use and characteristics).

Additional guidelines for specific types of industrial wastewater or facilities

Industrial process wastewater

Allowance of disposal of industrial process wastewater to an onsite wastewater disposal system is dependent on the ability of such a system to appropriately treat the wastewater prior to its introduction into the soil and groundwater. Normally, such systems are acceptable only for biodegradable wastewater of relatively low strength containing no toxic materials.

Industrial wastewater from motorized vehicle repair or maintenance operations

During normal vehicle repair and maintenance activities, vehicle fluids may drip or spill or otherwise enter floor drains and sinks in service areas. These fluids, which can introduce various toxic chemicals into sources of drinking water, may include engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, hydraulic fluid, antifreeze, cleaning solvents and degreasers. This would generally apply to businesses that have a floor drain or shop sink in an area where motorized vehicle service or repair work is performed or any area where the liquids associated with those activities are stored. Such businesses typically include automobile dealerships, service stations, body shops, recreational vehicle sales and service facilities, fleet facilities, marinas, airports, railroad facilities, etc.

Under federal and state laws and regulations, discharges from any new or existing motorized vehicle repair and/or maintenance operation may not be connected to an onsite subsurface wastewater disposal system such as a septic tank/absorption field or drywell. The owner or operator of an existing onsite wastewater disposal system that receives these types of wastes must disconnect any floor drains or other plumbing from such on-site treatment/subsurface disposal systems.

There are alternatives an owner/operator may employ to comply with the prohibition on the discharge of wastewater from such facilities:

  1. Dry Shop — Remove all floor drains and sinks from areas where service or repair work is performed. Use absorbent materials and a vacuum to collect spills and drips. Place all wastes into containers for off-site disposal following state guidelines and regulations.
    It may also be possible to physically separate the sinks and floor drains in the service area where repair or maintenance activities take place from other shop areas. In this instance, the part of the shop where service and repair work is performed may be a dry shop and other parts of the facility (where there is no vehicle service performed) may be acceptable for discharge to an on-site disposal system.
  2. Municipal Sanitary Sewer — Connect the plumbing system to a municipal sanitary sewer. The local municipal sewer authority should be consulted to determine if they have restrictions on discharges of such wastewater into the sanitary sewers.
  3. Holding Tank — Connect your plumbing system to an approved wastewater holding tank and dispose of the holding tank contents at wastewater treatment facility. The holding tank could also receive domestic (sanitary) wastewater.

Industrial wastewater from motorized vehicle storage

Floor drains that receive only snowmelt or rainwater drippage may generally be connected to an industrial or mixed wastewater subsurface disposal system. Water used to wash the exterior of vehicles in the vehicle storage facility may be discharged to a subsurface disposal system if the soap or detergent is biodegradable and appropriate for use in vehicle washing. Do not allow waxes or other treatments to enter the disposal system.

If the wastewater discharged through the floor drains may contain any material other than precipitation water drippage (e.g., salt from highway maintenance trucks, excessive solids, etc.), that wastewater generally cannot be discharged into the subsurface system. The department cautions that if there is any potential for future vehicle maintenance to occur in such a facility, then approval for subsurface disposal cannot be granted. The building owner is responsible to assure that vehicle maintenance wastewater is not discharged to the system, thereby maintaining compliance with the aforementioned vehicle waste disposal regulations.

Industrial wastewater from kennels, stables and other non-agricultural animal facilities

Wastewater from kennels is frequently mixed with domestic sewage from the facility. It is acceptable to discharge the wastewater from the cleaning and disinfecting of the kennel runs and from animal washing into a mixed wastewater POWTS with subsurface effluent disposal system. Solid feces from animals and any other solid bedding material should be manually collected and disposed separately/appropriately. Filters should be placed in the system to prevent excessive hair from entering the POWTS system.