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What you need to know

What is the relationship between regional councils and dams?

All councils that wish to fulfil building consent functions are required to be accredited by The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) as a Building Consent Authority (BCA).

The Building Act 2004 (the Act) introduced changes that affect the construction of dams. The intent of the Act is to encourage better practice in building design, construction, and regulatory building control.

A key change implemented by the Act is the transfer of responsibility for building consent matters, regarding dams, from local councils on to regional councils. To prevent duplication of services and to provide greater efficiencies a transfer agreement has been reached between the Waikato Regional Council Auckland Council and other North Island regional councils.

This means that the regional councils have the regulatory responsibility to ensure large dams are well built, and the potential risks to people and property are minimised.

If you own a dam or canal, or are planning to construct, modify or remove a dam, canal or a structure associated with a dam, then this applies to you.

Dangerous Dams Policy

Waikato Regional Council's Dangerous Dams Policy was adopted on 14 December 2006.

Section 161 of the Building Act 2004 created a function for regional councils in regard to dams that have been assessed as dangerous. This policy provides background information on Waikato Regional Council's role, and defines ‘dams’ and ‘dangerous dams’.

Where a dam has been found to be dangerous, then it is essential that the potential risk to the wider community is removed or appropriately managed. Waikato Regional Council will will at least initially try to achieve this outcome by way of a consultative approach with the owners of any dam that is considered to be dangerous. However, the legislation provides a number of tools that Waikato Regional Council can turn to if the necessary action does not occur. If necessary, Waikato Regional Council will make use of those more regulatory tools.

The policy also addresses the particular case of dangerous dams that are also heritage dams.

Update - September 2019: Section 3.0 of this policy states it will become operative three months following the date the Department of Building and Housing Regulations for the Dam Safety Scheme take effect.   While these were due to come into effect in July 2010, the commencement date was repeatedly deferred and in June 2015 the Government revoked the Building (Dam Safety) Regulations 2008, effective from 30 June 2015.

Over the past 12 months, MBIE have convened a working party and recently called for submissions on new dam safety regulations.

>> Click here to read the Dangerous Dams Policy [PDF, 343 KB] 

Dams register

Waikato Regional Council and other regional councils are required under the Building Act to maintain a register of dams for their respective regions.

The register enables councils to contact dam owners on matters of importance to them, such as new regulations and guidance material on dam safety. If you own a dam, then you should check whether it should be on the register. Just contact us - there's no cost!


What applications can Waikato Regional Council process as a BCA?

WRC are responsible for performing functions under the Act relating to a “large dam” only. Refer Section 14

Do I need a resource consent or building consent to build a dam?

Resource consents

Resource consents are often required for dams as they involve the taking, using, damming and diverting of water and controlling of the quantity, level and flow of water. Also, the works associated with the dam construction itself can often trigger the requirement for resource consent.

Building consents

A building consent is required for all structures that meet the definition of a ‘large dam’ (see figures 1 and 2), as well as those structures that form part of the large dam structure itself — such as appurtenant structures.

The construction of any dam, that is not a large dam is ’exempt” building work, and does not require a building consent, nevertheless the Act requires all building work on dams to comply with the Building Code irrespective of the size of the dam. Refer Section 17

This applies to the construction of new dams, the modifications of existing dams and also applies to appurtenant structures of dams.

Once details of your project are known you should discuss your development with your relevant regional and local council to identify if any resource or building consent will be required.

How are dams defined?(section 7)

Section 7 of the Act provides a definition of dams and large dams.

A dam:

  1. means an artificial barrier, and any connected structures, that –
    1. is constructed to hold back water or other fluid under constant pressure so as to form a reservoir
    2. is used for the storage, control, or diversion of water or other fluid
  2. includes:-
    1. flood control dam,
    2. a natural feature that has been significantly modified to function as a dam
    3. a canal; but
  3. does not include a stopbank designed to control flood waters.

What is an “appurtenant structure” (section 7)

In relation to a dam, means a structure that is integral to the safe functioning of the dam as a structure for retaining water or other fluid.

What is a “large dam” (section 7)

Means a dam that has a height of 4 or more metres and holds 20,000 or more cubic metres volume of water or other fluid.

Cross section of a large dam

Volume of dam

MBIE have referenced the “holding capacity” of a dam as being the “volume or peak flow of the flood that would cause the reservoir level to reach the crest of the dam with full use of the spillway(s) of the dam.

Measurement of dams (section 133B)

The height of a dam is to be measured as the vertical distance from the crest of the dam, as follows:

  • in the case of a dam across a stream - the height is to be measured from the natural bed of the stream at the lowest downstream outside limit of the dam; and
  • in the case of a dam that is not across a stream - the height is to be measured from the lowest elevation at the outside limit of the dam; and in the case of a canal - the height is to be measured from the invert of the canal.

Crest of dam (section 7)

The crest of a dam is the uppermost surface of the dam, not taking into account any camber allowed for settlement, or any curbs, parapets, guard rails, or other structures that are not part of the water-retaining structure; and for the avoidance of doubt, any freeboard is to be considered as part of the water-retaining structure.

Guidelines for rural owners of dams

For the purpose of defining whether a dam meets the large dam threshold, the volume shall be based on a reservoir level based on one of the following:-

  1. Where there is only an outlet pipe (and no overflow flood spillway, or the overflow flood spillway is less than 3.0 metres wide) – the reservoir level at the dam crest.
  2. Where there is a free overflow flood spillway (minimum 3.0 metres width) and the design hydrology is not known or current (typical of rural dams), the reservoir at the spillway crest level plus 300mm of spillway operation.
  3. Where the hydrology is current and spillway capacity meets NZSOLD Dam Safety Guidelines based on the dam impact classification (PIC) – the reservoir level corresponding to the dam operating at its design flood level;

What expert input is required?

Owners should consider obtaining suitably qualified professional advice to assist them with the requirements for the construction and ongoing monitoring of dam structures.

This advice may consist of, but not be limited to:

  • preparation of the necessary building consent and resource consent applications
  • preparation of the necessary drawings and engineering calculations
  • assessment of the dam against regulatory standards

Engineering details

The building code is non-specific in regard to dam design. For this reason, all dam applications will be assessed using the New Zealand Society of Large dams (NZSOLD Dam Safety Guidelines as an alternative solution.

Alternative solution

An alternative solution is a design solution which differs from the acceptable solutions given in the approved documents - yet complies with the New Zealand Building Code. It can include a material, component or construction method that differs completely or partially from those described in the approved documents.

For further information, refer to: MBIE website

More information

The New Zealand Society of Large Dams works with advancing technology of dam engineering and supports sustainable development of dams and subjects related to them.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise can guide you regarding building law and compliance.       

BRANZ Limited helps you with independent research and information about building and construction.

Heritage New Zealand  recognises, promotes and protects New Zealand's historic and cultural heritage.