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Dams – Private Property

What is a Private Dam?

Private dams are dams on private property.

They are usually built from earth, and vary in their size and shape.

Section 3 of the Water Act 1989 defines a dam as being: “anything in which by means of an excavation, a bank, a barrier or other works water is collected, stored or concentrated.”

There are several common designs or types of private dams including:

  • Gully dams; usually consist of an earth embankment constructed across a gully, valley, natural depression or fold in the land.
  • Hillside dams; usually consist of a 3 sided or single crescent / curved embankment and, as the name suggests, situated on the side of a hill or slope.
  • Excavated tank dams; can consist of an excavation below the natural surface level or may also include above-ground engineered earth embankments surrounding an excavation, allowing for increased water storage above and below the natural surface level. Excavated tank dams are usually used to store water that is diverted from rivers, creeks or groundwater bores and are common in flat areas where it is not possible to construct a gully or hillside dam.
  • On-stream dams; are similar in design to gully dams and usually consist of an earth embankment situated on a waterway.

 


What licences do I need?

The licences that you may need for your private dam include:

  • A Surface Water (take and use) Licence
  • A Works Licence (to construct)
  • A Private Dam Operating Licence

If you have any enquiry about other works on waterways (eg bridges, culverts), contact your nearest

Catchment Management Authority
“Your dam, your responsibility” – a state government publication.

 


Constructing a dam

Anyone who wants to construct, alter, repair or decommission a dam on a waterway must obtain a before starting any works.

You may also need a licence to build and operate a dam that is not on a waterway if you are proposing to build a large dam, or potentially hazardous dam.

This will depend on the size, location and potential hazard of the dam.

A large or potentially hazardous dam is a dam that:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Is a dam belonging to a prescribed class of dams (at the moment, there are no prescribed class of dams)

It is your responsibility to ensure that you comply with the Water Act 1989. We advise that you contact us on 1300 139 510 to discuss licensing requirements before starting any works.

Please note that as well as a works licence, most local Shire Councils require a planning permit. You should contact your Shire Council to discuss.


How do I obtain a Works Licence?

You need to apply to us with an application form and fee. We strongly recommend you talk to us first, as not all applications are approved.

If you intend to take and use water from a dam for any purpose other than domestic and stock use, you must obtain a Surface Water Licence.


What does my licence allow me to do?

If your application is approved, your works licence is valid for 12 months from the date of issue. Your dam must be completed before the expiry date.

The licence will give conditions that you and your chosen contractor or consultant must read and be aware of before starting to construct the dam. The conditions will vary depending on the proposed use, location, size and type of dam you intend to build.


Maintenance

The following advice is general in nature. You should seek expert advice about the best way to keep your dam safe and operating properly.

A dam is a valuable asset on any property, providing essential stock, business or irrigation water supplies.

Spillway
Your dam spillway must be designed to take a 1 in 100 year flood (technically known as an Australian Rainfall Index rain event).
Storms can hit without warning, and a correctly sized spillway is essential protection for your dam. The spillway must never be reduced in size without approval from Southern Rural Water.

Compensation Pipe and Valve
The valve must be operated regularly to avoid seizure due to rust and other build-up.
Regular operation will also reduce the amount of silt and other debris that can build up in the compensation pipe.
You should maintain safe and simple access to the valve at all times.

Dam Wall
Keep your downstream wall clear of trees, shrubs and weeds.
The slope should have an even cover of deep-rooted grass, regularly maintained to allow a visual assessment of the wall.

General Surveillance
You should install a straight line of fence posts across the crest and check them regularly. Any movement should be immediately reported to Southern Rural Water and your dam engineer.

You should also regularly check for leaks, wet spots, slumping or any signs that the dam may be at risk. Regular inspections and prompt maintenance will help you get the maximum life span from your dam.

Dam Safety Emergency Plan

 


Operating Licence

By law, many farm dams require an Operating Licence.
They include dams that are:

  • Situated on a waterway, regardless of size
  • 5 metres high at the wall with a capacity of 50 megalitres or more
  • 10 metres high at the wall with a capacity of 20 megalitres or more
  • 15 metres high at the wall, regardless of capacity.
  • These dams are regarded as potentially hazardous, and require special operating conditions.

Getting a Licence

We strongly recommend that before you begin, you make an appointment to have a chat with one of our staff.

To obtain an operating licence, you need to submit:


Licence Conditions

Your licence may include conditions such as:

  • Submitting monitoring when required by Southern Rural Water
  • Remedial works to correct any faults identified by the SEMP

Your Dam Operating Licence is valid for 5 years, and has an annual fee. When your licence is due for renewal, we will send you an application, and you will need to submit an updated SEMP.


Rural Urban Fringe Dams

All new household dams in rural-urban fringe areas in Victoria now must be registered with rural water corporations.

These regulations came into effect on 1 January 2011. They require property owners in rural residential areas to register with their rural water corporation any new aesthetic dam, domestic and stock dam, or plans to significantly alter existing dams before starting any works.

This applies to any property:

  • Located within the rural living zone, green wedge zones and any residential zone as defined by Victoria’s Planning Schemes, and
  • That is 8 hectares (20 acres) or smaller

You can check with your local council if your property is in a rural residential zone. Property owners can also find out what zone they live in here.

People with existing dams in rural residential areas will not need to register them unless they want to significantly enlarge them.

Property owners who live outside a rural residential area do not need to register their domestic and stock dams.

If you require a surface water licence(take and use) or a dam construction licence then you do not need to also register your dam. Your licence application form is enough.



Don’t Drink the Water

The quality of water from private dams can vary widely.
Dam water is untreated and should not be considered safe for human consumption without proper treatment.


Private Dams Surface Water Licence

When you are planning to use your dam water for irrigation or commercial purposes, you will need a Surface Water Licence.

You will need to hold a licence for the period of time that you wish to take and use water out of the dam. You also need a Surface Water Licence before you can get a licence to construct a new dam.

Dams used for domestic and stock purposes built on your property do not require a Surface Water Licence.

Getting a licence
We strongly recommend that before you begin, you make an appointment to have a chat with one of our staff.

To obtain a Surface Water Licence, you need to submit:

• An application form (see our website)
• A site plan and location plan
• Appropriate fees (see our website)

Referrals

When we assess your application, we may refer it to other agencies, and we may also ask you to advertise the proposal and notify neighbours to seek public comment. We will provide templates to help with this.

We may also ask you to submit:

• an environmental assessment report (technical information which we will analyse)
• a water use plan to support your proposal; and/or
• a development plan if you are proposing to expand over a period of time

Licence conditions

If your licence is approved, it will be subject to conditions, including:

• How much water you can take and from where and when
• Installation of a meter to measure and monitor your water use
• The need to comply with restrictions, rosters and bans
• Other conditions

What do I do if I don’t have a surface water licence?

Surface water licences are usually obtained either by buying an entitlement from a licence holder, through a water auction, or, through a property purchase.

If you don’t think you have a surface water licence after a property settlement you need to follow up with your solicitor or agent and check whether the licence or water entitlement was included in the contract of sale. If it was then you will need to complete an application form to transfer the entitlement. All current licence holders (the seller) as well as all proposed new licence holders (the buyer) must sign this form.

If the licence wasn’t included in the contract of sale, you should phone Southern Rural Water on 1300 139 510. You will need to secure an entitlement through a temporary or permanent transfer, or water auction.

All applications need to be submitted to Southern Rural Water for assessment. Transfer applications are not always approved.

More information
For more information, contact us on 1300 139 510 or visit www.srw.com.au

See also our:

• Taking water from rivers & creeks factsheet
• Water for my reural property – Do I need a licenece factsheet
• Private Dam Construction Licence Fact Sheet
• Private Dam Operating Licence Fact Sheet
• Private Dam Maintenance Fact Sheet
• Consulting Engineers List Fact Sheet

Download Factsheet


Private dam operating licence

By law, many private dams require an Operating Licence.

They include dams that are:

• Situated on a waterway, regardless of size
• 5 metres high at the wall with a capacity of 50 megalitres or more
• 10 metres high at the wall with a capacity of 20 megalitres or more
• 15 metres high at the wall, regardless of capacity

These dams are regarded as potentially hazardous, and require special operating conditions.

Your dam requires an operating licence even if it is not used.

Getting a licence

We strongly recommend that before you begin the application process, you make an appointment to have a chat with one of our staff.

To obtain an operating licence, you need to submit:

• A dam safety emergency plan (DSEP). (See forms on our website)
• An application form (see our website)
• Appropriate fees (see our website)

Surveillance and Emergency Management Plan (SEMP)

The SEMP must be prepared by an experienced consulting engineer. It should include as a minimum:

• A summary of the dam properties, current dimensions and other features
• An appropriate dam surveillance program and check list
• A Dam Safety Emergency Plan (see our website)
• Inspection photographs
• Spillway capacity computations
• Locality and catchment plan
• Any recommendations regarding works needed to bring the dam to acceptable standards

Licence conditions

Your licence may include conditions such as:

• Submitting monitoring when required by Southern Rural Water
• Remedial works to correect any faults identified by the SEMP

Your Dam Operating Licence is valid for 5 years, and has an annual fee. When your licence is due for renewal, we will send you an application, and you will need to submit an updated SEMP.

More information
For more information, contact us on 1300 139 510 or visit www.srw.com.au

See also our fact sheets on:

• Private Dam Consulting Engineers
• Private Dam Construction Licences
• Private Dam Maintenance
• Private Dam Surface Water Licence

Download Factsheet


Private Dam Maintenance & Repairs

A dam is a valuable asset on any property, providing essential water supplies.

If your dam fails, it can lead to:
• Expensive repair bills
• Lost productin whilst your dam is fixed
• Legal liability for any damage caused to people, property or the environment

It makes sense to keep your dam in good repair!

Dam owners often seek advice from Southern Rural Water about their obligations when undertaking works to dams – particularly when a works licence is needed.

This Fact Sheet provides some guidance on when a works licence is required. Remember, it is always best to check with us before you start work.

Spillway

Your dam spillway must be designed to take a 1 in 100 year flood (technically known as an Australian Rainfall Index rain event). Storms can hit without warning, and a correctly sized spillway is essential protection for your dam. The spillway must never be reduced in size without approval from Southern Rural Water.

Compensation pipe and valve

The valve must be operated regularly to avoid seizure due to rust and other build-up. Regular operation will also reduce the amount of silt and other debris that can build up in the compensation pipe. You should maintain safe and simple access to the valve at all times.

Dam wall

Keep your downstream wall clear of trees, shrubs and weeds. The slope should have an even cover of deep-rooted grass, regularly maintained to allow a visual assessment of the wall.

Dam crest

You can use the crest of the dam for vehicle or stock crossings. However, it should be kept level to avoid pot holes and uneven areas forming. You should also keep your crest fenced to exclude stock from both the upstream and downstream walls. Allowing stock access to the walls will cause damaging erosion.

Dam crest

You should install a straight line of fence posts across the crest and check them regularly. Any movement should be immediately reported to Southern Rural Water and your dam engineer.

You should also regularly check for leaks, wet spots, slumping or any signs that the dam may be at risk. Regular inspections and prompt maintenance will help you get the maximum life span from your dam.

This advice is general in nature, and you should seek expert advice about the best way to keep your dam safe and operating properly.

What is maintenance?

Basic maintenance of a dam does not require a licence from Southern Rural Water. This includes:

• Cleaning out of weeds
• Minor works to repair erosion damage on the crest, embankment or spillway
• Removal of vegetation from the dam wall
• Maintenance of the compensation pipe or trickle pipe

What maintenance will require a licence?

Any modification to the structure of the dam will need a licence!
It is always best to check with us before you start work.

You need a licence to construct, alter, operate, remove or decommission any dam that:

• Is located on a waterway
• Has a wall height of 5 metres or higher and a capacity of 50 megalitres or more
• Has a wall height of 10 metres or higher and a capacity of 20 megalitres or more
• Has a wall height of 15 metres or higher, regardless of the capacity.

Maintenance includes:

• Any alteration to the dams holding capacity or wall height

• Modification of the crest, spillway, compensation pipe or trickle pipe
• Reconstruction of the dam wall due to damage – such as damage sustained during a flood
• Repairs that result in disturbance to the embankment – such as removing a section of the embankment to replace or repair a compensation pipe or trickle pipe.1

Getting a licence?

We strongly recommend that before you begin, you make an appointment to have a chat with one of our staff.

To obtain a works licence, you must submit:
• An application form (see our website)
• A site plan or location plan
• Appropriate fees (see our website)

Engineering requirements?

Typically, a condition of a works licence will require the dam works to be designed and the construction supervised by a suitably qualified engineer.

Our website has a list of consulting engineers.

Note: a ‘suitably qualified engineer’ means a person eligible for membership of the Institution of Engineers Australia who is able to demonstrate competence in the design, construction supervision and surveillance of dams.

More information
For more information contact us on 1300 139 510 or visit www.srw.com.au

See also our fact sheets on:

• Private Dam Construction Licences
• Private Dam Surfacewater Water Licence

For further information on dams please see our website for a link to the Victorian Government publication ‘ Your Dam, your Responsibility’

Private Dam Maintenance and Repairs


Private Dam Construction Licence

You will require a Private Dam Construction Licence before you can build a dam if the proposed dam is:

• Being constructed on a waterway
• Has a wall height of 5 metres or higher and 50 megalitres capacity or larger; or
• Has a wall height of 10 metres or higher and 20 megalitres capacity or larger; or
• Has a wall height of 15 metres or higher, regardless of capacity.

Note: “Waterway” includes rivers, creeks, natural channels or dams with a catchment of 60 hectares or greater.

Note: The height of the dam or embankment is the difference in level between the natural surface level, bed of a gully, stream or waterway at the downstream toe of the dam and the crest.

Getting a licence

We strongly recommend that before you begin, you make an appointment to have a chat with one of our staff.

To obtain a construction licence, you need to submit:

• An application form (see our website)
• A site plan or location plan
• Appropriate fees (see our website)
• Depending on the location and size of your proposed dam, we may ask you to provide a surveillance and emergency plan prepared by a suitably qualified engineer. Our website has a list of consulting engineers should they be required.

When considering whether to approve your application to construct the dam, Southern Rural Water must take into account many things, including:

• the availability of water at the site and in the catchment;
• the impact that taking water and the construction of the dam might have on other users and the environment; and the conservation policy of the government, existing acts, plans, strategies or policies at a catchment, regional or state level.

We may also inspect the site to assess water availability, environmental, safety and other issues, if the proposed construction site is on a waterway.

Southern Rural Water will refer your application to the Department of Sustainability and Environment, local government and catchment management authorities for comment before it is approved

You may also be required to obtain an Environmental Assessment Report, particularly if your dam is proposed to be on a waterway.

Licence conditions

Once approved, your Works Licence is only valid for 12 months. If your dam is not completed in this time, you can apply to renew the licence prior to the expiry date. After this date, you will need to apply for a new licence.

You cannot start construction until you have received your licence.

Your Works Licence will have a number of conditions on it – please read and understand the conditions before any work starts. If you have any questions about your conditions, please call us.

Southern Rural Water inspects most dams during or after construction and before the dam is filled.

More information
For more informaiton, contact us on 1300 139 510 or visit www.srw.com.au

See also our fact sheets on:

• Private Dam Surface Water Licence
• Private Dam Operating Licence
• Private Dam Maintenance
• Consulting Engineers List

Download Factsheet


Water for my rural property - do I need a licence?

You may need a licence to obtain water from your rural property, depending on how and why you want to use the water, and where it comes from.

Licences are issued by your Southern Rural Water as your local rural water corporation.

For domestic and stock use of water

(which includes water for household purposes,watering of animals kept as pets, watering of cattle or other stock, watering around the house for fire prevention and watering a kitchen garden).

For commercial activities
(eg irrigation, mining, aquaculture, feedlots, piggeries, poultry farms, golf/sporting areas, guest accommodation, water bottling, snow making)

More information
For more information, contact your nearest rural water corporation:

Southern Rural Water
1300 139 510

Melbourne Water (surface water, Yarra and Maribyrnong waterways)
131 722

Download Factsheet


Your dam your responsibility

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