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 not require a works licence, depending on the location of the dam.

Under the Act, a works licence is required to construct, operate, alter or decommission a dam that is constructed on a waterway.

A works licence may 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:
    • 5m or higher and 50 megalitre (ML) capacity or larger; or
    • 10m or higher and 20ML capacity or larger; or
    • 15m or higher, regardless of capacity,
  • A dam belonging to a prescribed class of dams.

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.

The construction and operation of a private dam may therefore require one or more the following licences:

  • A works licence (to construct)
  • A works licence (to operate)
Location of private damPrivate dam criteriaConstruction licenceOperating licence
On a waterwayNot potentially hazardousYesYes
On a waterwayPotentially hazardousYesYes
Not on a waterwayNot potentially hazardousn/an/a
Not on a waterwayPotentially hazardousYesYes

To obtain a licence

To apply for a works licence, apply to your local Rural Water Corporation (listed below) as they are responsible for licensing private dams under the Act.

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 diversion inspectors contact you to arrange a site inspection
  • when the application has been assessed by your local Rural Water Corporation and relevant agencies (if applicable), they will advise you of the outcome.

Compliance

  • Licence conditions must be met
  • If water is taken for a commercial purpose you need a take and use licence.

Further information and links

For further information on dam management in Victoria:

Other DELWP resources:

Domestic and stock use

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

Dam

Anything in which by means of an excavation, a bank, a barrier or other works water is collected, stored or concentrated

Private dam

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

Potentially hazardous dam

A dam that:

(a) has a wall that is 5 metres or more high above ground level at the downstream end of the dam and a capacity of 50 megalitres or more; or

(b) has a wall that is 10 metres or more high above ground level at the downstream end of the dam and a capacity of 20 megalitres or more; or

(c) has a wall that is 15 metres or more high above ground level at the downstream end of the dam, regardless of the capacity; or

(d) is a dam belonging to a prescribed class of dams.

Waterway
  • a river, creek, stream or watercourse; or 
  • a natural channel in which water regularly flows, whether or not the flow is continuous; or
  • a channel formed wholly or partly by the alteration or relocation of a waterway as described in paragraph (a) or (b); or
  • a lake, lagoon, swamp or marsh, being —
    • a natural collection of water (other than water collected and contained in a private dam or a natural depression on private land) into or through or out of which a current that forms the whole or part of the flow of a river, creek, stream or watercourse passes, whether or not the flow is continuous; or
    • a collection of water (other than water collected and contained in a private dam or a natural depression on private land) that the Governor in Council declares under section 4(1) to be a lake, lagoon, swamp or marsh; or
  • land on which, as a result of works constructed on a waterway as described in paragraph (a), (b) or (c), water collects regularly, whether or not the collection is continuous; or
  • land which is regularly covered by water from a waterway as described in paragraph (a), (b), (c), (d) or (e) but does not include any artificial channel or work which diverts water away from such a waterway; or
  • if any land described in paragraph (f) forms part of a slope rising from the waterway to a definite lip, the land up to that lip
Works

includes:

(a) reservoirs, dams, bores, channels, sewers, drains, pipes, conduits, fire plugs, machinery, equipment and apparatus, whether on, above or under land; and

(b) works described in section 10 (of the Act), whether on, above or under land; and

(c) fencing

Page last updated: 09/08/19