Dam licencing

You may need a licence to construct or alter a dam, depending on its location, height and capacity.

A dam is anything that collects or stores water by means of an excavation, a bank, a barrier or other works. A dam constructed on private land can be used for domestic and stock, irrigation and commercial purposes.

Constructing and operating a private dam may require one or both of these licences:

  • a works licence – to construct
  • a works licence – to operate.

You can apply for both using the same form.

If a works licence is required, it must be approved and issued before starting any construction work.

  • files

    Apply to construct, alter or decommission a dam or other structure on or off a waterwayPDF – 0.56mb


Check if your dam needs a licence

A dam used for domestic and stock purposes may not require a works licence. This will depend on its location and size.

A dam on a waterway requires a works licence to construct, operate, alter or decommission.

A private dam that is not on a waterway may also require a licence – if it’s large and potentially hazardous. This includes any dam that:

  • has a wall height and capacity of:
    • 5m or higher and 50 megalitres (ML) or larger
    • 10m or higher and 20ML or larger
    • 15m or higher, regardless of capacity
  • belongs to a prescribed class of dams.

If you’re not sure whether your dam is on a waterway, contact our Rural Customer Team on 1800 808 830 for a waterway determination assessment.

Application requirements and conditions

To apply for a works licence to construct a private dam, you may need to:

  • notify neighbours in writing about your application and advertise in your local newspapers
  • get your dam designed (and/or its construction supervised) by a qualified engineer
  • develop a Dam Safety Emergency Plan, in case your planned dam fails or has any other structural fault
  • develop a Dam Surveillance Plan, which includes a qualified engineer regularly inspecting the dam
  • get a permit from your local council.

Licensing conditions are important to make sure dam failure is taken seriously. Owners of large and potentially hazardous dams must take proper precautions to protect life and property.

Under the Water Act 1989, owners are legally responsible for the safety of their dams. This means owners are liable for any death or damage caused by their dams, including damage to the environment.

For more information, see the dam safety guidance on the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) website.