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Land Use Division

The Land Use Division is responsible for code administration in programs including sanitation regulations, shoreland/wetland/floodplain zoning, subdivision plat review and related issues.

POWTS Search and Reporting Application
- The Private On-Site Wastewater Treatment System (POWTS) search and reporting application provides information about the POWTS installed in Washington County and a method for licensed plumbers to file pumping/inspection reports electronically. See below for additional information about POWTS and pumping/inspection requirements.

POWTS Information Poster

Click on the link below to view the Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems - POWTS (otherwise known as septic systems) information poster.

Warning: The POWTS information poster is a large document and may take some time to download.

It will be best to save it to your local machine!


  1. Right click on the link
  2. Select "Save Target As...."
  3. Place on your hard drive
  4. Open from your computer


Human Waste pollutes some Wisconsin drinking water...Click here for article

See detailed information below.

See sample Maintenance Record below.

For further information regarding these forms, please contact the Washington County Planning and Parks Department at 262-335-4445.

  • Land Divisions (Subdivisions) - Chapter 257
  • Sewers and Sewage Disposal (Private Sewage Systems) -
    Chapter 190
  • Shoreland, Wetland and Floodplain Zoning - Chapter 275


Land Use Information

Reminder to Property Owners in All Unincorporated Towns

Please note that the Washington County Planning and Parks Department administers and enforces the following ordinances within your municipality:

Subdivision Ordinance
Sanitary Ordinance
Shoreland/Wetland/Floodplain Zoning Ordinance

Phillip Gaudet, Land Resources Manager (Manager of Land Use Division) -
Hartford, Addison, Barton, Wayne & Kewaskum
Dave Seils, Inspector-in-Charge - Germantown, Polk, Richfield & Erin
Dave Lindner, Land Use Inspector - West Bend, Farmington, Jackson & Trenton

Before beginning any construction (including remodeling, reconstruction or any structural alterations), and landscaping, please contact us and request information on what permits and inspections may be necessary.

Please contact us before doing any work on your Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (POWTS) other than the routine pumping of your septic tank every 2 or 3 years as required under County Ordinance; this includes the placement of covers, risers, pipes, vents, etc. County and State laws require that some repairs, alterations, extensions or additions require permits at the County level, and the State requires that the person performing the work be properly licensed.

Enforcement of the County Shoreland/Wetland/Floodplain Zoning Ordinances pertain especially to properties within 300' of a river or navigable stream, within 1,000' of a lake/pond as well as all floodplain and the majority of wetland areas. Please note that many very small streams and ditches are regulated as required by the State. Permits are required to be issued by Land Use Division staff and may require approval by the Washington County Planning, Conservation and Parks Committee and the full County Board prior to your starting work on the following projects within the shoreland/wetland/floodplain zone:

This can include even small areas of filling, grading and excavating. A double fee will be charged if work is started without a permit.

  • Filling, grading, ponding, lagooning, dredging, excavating and any soil disturbance work.
  • Sand blanket or pea gravel
  • Seawall or riprap
  • Additions/alterations to existing structures or reconstruction of structures
  • New construction of any type
  • Retaining walls, sidewalks, driveways or other landscaping

When working near lakes and streams, you are advised to contact the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Milwaukee at (414) 263-8500, because in most cases permits will be needed from them also. Construction in any wetland or shoreline may require approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, phone number (414) 547-4171.

County approval will be needed for all subdivisions. Certified Survey Maps located in Shoreland/Wetland/Floodplain Zoning Districts frequently require County approval.

To help minimize complications, please do not hesitate to contact our office for information about the procedure for obtaining any of the permits mentioned above. This should be done several weeks prior to the proposed start of your project. When work takes place without permits, County and State laws usually hold the property owner responsible even if the work was done by a contractor. In some cases, the contractor may also be responsible. You should also contact the Town regarding their permit requirements.

To view the "Reminder to Property Owners" form online,click here

Activities requiring permits from the Washington County Planning and Parks Department fall under two main categories:

• Sanitary Permits
• Shoreland/floodplain Zoning Permits

Activities relating to the installation or repair of Privately Owned Wastewater Treatment Systems (POWTS) requires the owner of the property to obtain a Washington County Sanitary Permit. A Master Plumber or Master Plumber-Restricted Sewer is the responsible party for obtaining the permit, and the installation and/or repair. A sanitary permit is obtained after submitting a completed application, along with a plot plan, a site evaluation and a system design. For certain POWTS, state approval is needed before applying for the county sanitary permit.

A Washington County Land Use Inspector will ensure that the POWTS is installed in compliance with state codes through a series of inspections.

The Shoreland/Floodplain zoning jurisdictional boundary is all lands within 300' of a navigable stream, 1000' from navigable lakes and ponds, and all lands within the 100-year flood plain. Activities requiring permits from the Washington County Planning and Parks Department include erecting buildings, digging ponds, grading, roads, erosion control structures, etc.

The owner of the property will obtain the permit after filling out an application, along with supplying plot plans and diagrams of the project. Some projects will require only basic drawings, while others may require detailed building and grading plans. In floodplains, structures must meet stringent FEMA requirements. Larger projects often require the application to be reviewed at a hearing before the County Planning, Conservation and Parks Committee.

For a Summary of Application Requirements, please click on the link below:

Following issuance of a shoreland/floodplain permit, but before the project is started, a Land Use Inspector will visit the site to confirm the adequacy of erosion control and other site considerations. Periodic inspections will occur throughout the phases of the project to ensure compliance with the permit.

Click on one of the links below to fill in a form online and print one of our permit applications. It should be noted that any of the forms filled out online need to be printed, signed, and brought to the Planning and Parks Department office for processing.

The following PDF files require Adobe Reader. Click on the Adobe icon to download a free copy.
*Administrative & Conditional Use Permit Application Form  
*Shoreland Zoning Permit Application Form  
*Rezoning Permit Application Form  
  Sanitary Variance Application Form  
  Board of Adjustment / Variance Application Form  
*Application Form for Minor Repairs  
Permit Application Review Instructions
Permit Application Review Form


Note:  Forms shown with * in front of them should be printed on 8 1/2" X 14" paper in order to print all necessary information.

Subdivision Review Forms

Subdivision Review Items Needed for Objecting Authority Subdivisions
*Subdivision Review Items Needed for Approving Authority Subdivisions

Click on the link below.


These forms can be used by Master Plumbers as part of a Sanitary Permit application in Washington County.

Note that we have three different forms to use depending on the type of system.



The information contained here is being provided by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department to briefly explain Private On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems (POWTS) which are used in non-sewered areas as a means to treat, assimilate, and recycle domestic wastewater into the soil.

Disclaimer: Washington County does not endorse or recommend
any one vendor over the other


  1. Under normal circumstances, the cost of installing a new POWTS will range from $5,000 to $9,000 for a conventional POWTS and $10,000 - $17,000 for a mound or at-grade POWTS for a 3-4 bedroom residential dwelling. The cost for a new holding tank installation can range from $6,000 to $10,000. For replacement systems add an additional $2,000 - $5,000 to the above.
  2. If properly sited, designed, installed and maintained, a POWTS should last 20+ years.
  3. Washington County Sanitary Code requires pumping or inspection of treatment tanks by an individual licensed in the State of Wisconsin as a licensed master plumber, master plumber restricted sewer, certified POWTS inspector, POWTS maintainer, or certified septage servicing operator, as follows:
    1. At-grade, mound, in-ground pressure system - every 2 years
    2. Conventional system - every 3 years.
      Alternative or experimental designs often require more frequent maintenance.
  4. The use of septic tank additives is unnecessary for the proper biological functioning of a POWTS.


As wastewater exits the house through the building sewer, it enters the septic (treatment) tank. Although the primary function of the tank is to settle out solids, it also provides an environment for biological and chemical reactions to take place. In the tank, larger solids settle forming a sludge layer at the bottom of the tank. Grease, oils, and floating particles rise to the top to form a scum layer. An effluent filter, located at the outlet end of the tank prevents large particles such as seeds, cigarettes, towelettes, hair, etc. from entering the absorption cell (dispersion unit). The partially treated waste discharged from the septic tank is referred to as sewage effluent.

Sewage effluent flows by gravity or is pumped to the absorption cells for treatment within the soil. Within the absorption cells are perforated pipes, which distribute the effluent. Typical absorption fields include conventional cells, in-ground pressure, at-grade, and mound systems. The size of the absorption cell is dependent on soil permeability and, for residences, the number of bedrooms in the dwelling.

The soil serves as a filter, treating the effluent as it percolates downward. With traditional soil absorption cells, the soil provides most of the treatment and final dispersal into the environment. With the advent of newer technology, pretreatment units such as aerobic treatment units (ATUs) including suspended growth, fixed media, and trickling filter systems provide most of the treatment with the soil providing final polishing and dispersal to the environment.

As the soil absorption system ages, the ability of the soil to absorb effluent diminishes causing it to become saturated. Although a saturated system will continue to filter sewage effluent, eventually the effluent accumulates in the absorption field faster than the soil can absorb it. The soil pores become clogged, resulting in ponding within the soil absorption system, and sewage back-up into the house, or surface discharge of partially treated effluent near the system.

On sites where unsuitable area and/or soil conditions exist, a holding tank may be the only option available. A holding tank collects all wastewater generated from the dwelling or commercial building. The contents of the holding tank must be removed regularly by a licensed pumper. Washington County does not allow the use of holding tanks for new construction residential dwellings.


Several conditions that will shorten the life of a POWTS include:

  1. Hydraulic overloading - POWTS are designed for a specific quantity and quality of wastewater. The following may cause an absorption system to pond, resulting in sewage backup into the dwelling or surface discharge of partially treated sewage:
    1. Excessive water use inside the home.
    2. Leaking faucets/toilets.
    3. Groundwater infiltration through manholes, manhole risers, or broken underground sewer pipes.
    4. Introduction of surface water through manhole covers that are not located above the surrounding ground surface elevation.
    5. Discharge of water softener backwash into the tank.
  2. Disposal of excessive amounts of fats, oils, and greases.
  3. Disposal of antibiotics, disinfectants, paint, varnish, stains, gasoline, oil, degreasers, and pesticides - these chemicals will destroy the necessary bacteria that is present in the treatment tanks.


  1. Backup of sewage into the residence.
  2. Grass in the yard is much greener and is growing more rapidly than in other areas (this is a sign of ponding).
  3. Toilet or sinks drain slowly.
  4. Pump in pump/dosing tank runs continuously.
  5. Discharge of partially treated sewage onto the ground surface, into a ditch, or surface water.



Conserve water the following ways:

  • Use reduced-flow water fixtures.
  • Wash clothes using full loads only.
  • Operate dishwasher with full load only.
  • Spread clothes washing over several days to prevent surging.
  • Repair/replace leaking faucets/toilet float valves.
  • Use garbage disposal sparingly - avoid disposing of vegetable peelings and bones.
  • Divert surface water from downspouts and sump pumps away from the treatment tanks and dispersal component.
  • Know the location of treatment tanks and dispersal unit; keep manhole covers accessible for inspections and pumping; manholes that are
  • above grade must be locked.
  • Minimize foot and vehicular traffic over mound and at-grade POWTS to avoid soil compaction.
  • Keep a written record of repairs, pumping, inspections and other maintenance activities.
  • Call a professional if system problems occur and at the onset of any signs of system failure.


Do not dispose the following into the treatment tank(s):

  • baby wipes
  • cat litter
  • cigarettes
  • coffee grounds
  • condoms
  • cotton face cleaning pads
  • cotton swabs
  • dental floss
  • disposable diapers
  • facial tissues
  • large quantities of fats, oils, greases
  • large quantities of strong cleaning products
  • paint/varnish/stain
  • paper towels
  • pesticides
  • photographic chemicals
  • sanitary napkins/tampons
  • solvents


  1. Drive or park vehicles or heavy machinery over the treatment tanks or dispersal unit.
  2. Construct driveways/parking areas over the treatment tanks or near the dispersal unit.
  3. Enter a septic/treatment tank under any circumstances.
  4. Plant trees/bushes over the POWTS.
  5. Discharge water softener backwash water into the POWTS.


Contact the Washington County Planning and Parks Department under the following circumstances:

  1. You propose to add bedrooms or a change-in-use (such as starting a home business).
  2. You are proposing a home addition, renovation, construction of an outbuilding, pool, patio, or major grading projects, etc.
  3. For information on the "Wisconsin Fund Program". This is a State grant program, which, for eligible candidates, may assist financially in the replacement of failing POWTS, as defined by Wisconsin Administrative Code.
  4. For lists of POWTS installers, POWTS evaluators, certified soil testers, licensed septage pumpers, POWTS designers and land surveyors/engineers who conduct work within Washington and surrounding counties.

Private Onsite Waste Treatment System Diagrams

Please click on one of the links below for related Land Use information and the Geographic Information Systems mapping application containing Shoreland Zoning information.

This program provides state financial assistance to reimburse eligible property owners a portion of the cost of replacing or rehabilitating failing private on-site wastewater treatment systems (POWTS). The program is administered at the county level. To view the Wisconsin Fund Financial Assistance Program Guidelines dated February, 2012, click on the link below.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact this office at

Land Use Division Home Page