Licences required for private dams used for domestic and stock purposes
Under the Water Act 1989, a person who uses or stores water from a private dam for domestic and stock purposes may require a works licence, depending on the location or size of the dam.
The construction and operation of a private dam may therefore require one or more of the following licences:
- A works licence (to construct)
- A works licence (to operate).
A dam is anything which collects or stores water by means of excavation, a bank, a barrier or other works.
Under the Act, a works licence is required to construct, operate, alter or decommission a dam that is constructed on a waterway.
If you are unsure whether the location for the private dam is on a waterway, you may apply for your local rural water corporation to do a waterway determination assessment.
A works licence may also be required for a private dam not on a waterway if it is large and therefore, potentially hazardous. This includes any dam that meets the following criteria:
- a wall height and capacity of:
- 5 m or higher and 50 megalitres (ML) capacity or larger; or
- 10 m or higher and 20 ML capacity or larger; or
- 15 m or higher, regardless of capacity
- a dam belonging to a prescribed class of dams.
|Location of private dam||Private dam criteria||Construction licence||Operating licence|
|On a waterway||Not potentially dangerous||Yes||Yes|
|On a waterway||Potentially dangerous||Yes||Yes|
|Not on a waterway||Not potentially dangerous||N/A||N/A|
|Not on a waterway||Potentially dangerous||Yes||Yes|
Obtaining a licence
You can apply for a works licence through your local rural water corporation (listed below) as they are responsible for licensing private dams under the Water Act 1989.
Contact your local rural water corporation before constructing a new private dam or altering an existing dam on your property:
Constructing a new or altering an existing private dam without a licence may constitute illegal works under the Water Act 1989.
Works licence application requirements
To apply for a works licence to construct a private dam, the following may be required:
- Notifying neighbours of your application in writing and advertising in your local newspapers.
- Having your proposed private dam designed (and/or construction supervised) by a qualified engineer.
- Ensuring safety by developing:
- a Dam Safety Emergency Plan, in case your planned dam fails or has any other structural fault
- a Dam Surveillance Plan, under which a qualified engineer must regularly inspect the dam
- Obtaining a permit to construct the dam from your local council due to planning scheme requirements.
- If a dam is determined by the rural water corporation to require a works licence then the application must be referred to the relevant agencies including local government and catchment management authority.
- If your proposed dam is on a waterway with high ecological value, you may also be required to:
- investigate alternative sites or alternative sources of water supply and/or;
- obtain an environmental assessment report including appropriate conditions (for example, fishway or passing of flows).
These conditions are important to ensure large and potentially hazardous dam owners take proper precautions to protect life and property, as they are legally responsible for the safety of their dams and liable for any death or damage they cause, including to the environment.
Dam failure must be taken seriously.
Please note: a works licence must be approved and issued prior to starting any construction work.
The works licence may also be subject to an application fee and validity period.
What to expect
Once you lodge your application with your local rural water corporation they will:
- Notify you that the application has been received.
- Have one of their staff contact you to arrange a site inspection.
- Advise you of the outcome when they and relevant agencies (if applicable), have assessed the application.
Licence holders must meet the conditions of the licence and you must obtain a take and use licence if water is taken for a commercial purpose.
Definitions of common terms
Sourced from the Water Act 1989.
In relation to water, means use for
(a) household purposes; or
(b) watering of animals kept as pets; or
(c) watering of cattle or other stock; or
(ca) in the case of the curtilage of a house and any outbuilding, watering an area not exceeding 1.2 hectares for fire prevention purposes with water obtained from a spring or soak or water from a dam; or
(d) irrigation of a kitchen garden— but does not include use for dairies, piggeries, feed lots, poultry or any other intensive or commercial use
Anything in which by means of an excavation, a bank, a barrier or other works water is collected, stored or concentrated
Anything in which by means of an excavation, a bank, a barrier or other works water is collected, stored or concentrated but does not include:
(a) anything owned or operated by a public statutory body; or
(b) any works of an Authority; or
(c) a channel, drain or pipe; or
(d) a bore
Page last updated: 08/09/23