Under the Water Act 1989 a dam is defined as anything in which by means of an excavation, a bank, a barrier, or other works water is collected, stored or concentrated. Dams can be privately owned by an individual or business, or by a Government agency. They can be used to store water for drinking, industry or farming, to protect property from flooding, or for recreation.

Dams are regulated by the Water Act. Under the Act, dam owners and managers are legally responsible for dam safety and accountable for the damage their dams may cause. Further information on dams in Victoria, including regulation and licensing, can be found on the Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action (DEECA) Water and Catchments webpage.

Dams and the planning system

Dams should be considered in planning permit applications for new development and planning scheme amendments (Planning Practice Note 46 - Strategic Assessment Guidelines). The Planning Policy Framework (Clause 14.01-1S Protection of agricultural land) requires planning to consider compatibility between the proposed or likely development and the existing use of the surrounding land.

DEECA Water and Catchments has developed a Guidance Note on Setbacks near Dams (DELWP, July 2022) (PDF). It provides guidance for setbacks from dams and property boundaries, and proposed development.

The setbacks are intended to provide access to the dam:

  • in the event of a safety incident or emergency
  • for ongoing maintenance and safety management
  • to allow space to implement dam safety upgrade works.

Note: a planning permit isn't required for a dam under Clause 62.02-1 Buildings and works not requiring a permit, if a licence is required to construct the dam or to take and use water from the dam under the Water Act 1989.

Page last updated: 27/01/23