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Keeping our dams safe

Dam owners are responsible for the safety of their dams. They are required to implement certain controls, such as safety management programs, monitoring and operational measures.

The Department provides policy, guidelines and oversight to dam owners for the safety of dams in Victoria.

Licensed dams

Construction licences

A private dam is treated as potentially hazardous and is subject to a construction licence and dam safety regulation if it is:

  • On a waterway
  • 5 metres or higher and 50 megalitres capacity or larger
  • 10 metres or higher and 20 megalitres capacity or larger
  • 15 metres or higher, regardless of capacity
  • The dam belongs to a prescribed class of dams.

Take and use licences

Dams that are built and used for domestic and stock purposes do not require a take and use licence.

A take and use/surface water licence is needed for all dams used for irrigation or commercial purposes, regardless of their location or size. If you intend to take and use water from a dam for any purpose other than domestic and stock use, you must obtain a take and use/surface water licence.

You should obtain a water licence before building a new dam, as your licence conditions may need your dam to include particular works to be incorporated into the dam’s construction.

Contact your Licensing Authority to discuss water entitlement matters, including availability, trading and metering of water for your circumstances.

Dam safety factsheet

Dam safety risks

It is important for dam owners to look after their dams and monitor risks.

Victoria faces many risks including bushfires, floods, severe storms and drought, made worse by the effects of climate change. These risks can pose a threat to dam safety.

Dam owners and managers can implement engineering controls and safety management systems to reduce the risk of failure.

Australia has a good dam safety record. The likelihood of a major dam failure happening is very low. However, the history of serious dam failures around the world tells us how important it is to maintain strong dam safety management programs.

How owners manage their dams

The more damage a dam could cause if it were to fail, the more effort a dam owner needs to put into monitoring it.

Larger dams have safety plans which include:

  • regular inspections by experienced and qualified people
  • installation of monitoring instruments at dam sites
  • operations and maintenance manuals
  • dam safety emergency plans.

These actions allow dam owners to collect information to identify changes in their dam that may present a risk.

The operations and maintenance manuals dam owners prepare have instructions on how to operate the dam under many different conditions, such as during a large flood.

In Victoria, some of our older dams were built as far back as the 1860s. Although these dams were constructed to the best standards of the day, design standards have improved over time as we gain better knowledge on storms, earthquakes and construction techniques.

As standards improve, dam owners assess their dams for risks and identify work that can be done to improve safety.

Emergency response

All large dams, or dams with the potential to cause significant damage if they fail, need to have a Dam Safety Emergency Plan. This plan guides the dam owner's response to an emergency situation at the dam. Testing the plan with emergency services and other relevant stakeholders builds trust and an understanding of everyone's responsibilities.

The State Emergency Response Plan assigns roles to emergency service organisations and other agencies for types of incidents.

If warning or evacuation is needed, the State Emergency Service (VICSES) and Victoria Police are involved. Local councils provide emergency relief to the community.

Visit Emergency Management Victoria for more information.

Dam Safety Emergency Plan

Find out more about dams in your area

If you live close to a large dam, it is likely that your local water corporation will know who owns it and can let you know who to speak to for more information.

If you live near a private dam, the local water corporation who issues licences can provide some information about it.

Page last updated: 08/09/23