Dams in Queensland

Dams have important roles including:

They provide valuable benefits to their owners and the wider community.

Dams must be safe. Dam failure can release water in an uncontrolled way that can result in loss of life, damage to property, and environmental harm.

Dams whose failure would threaten the safety of individuals are regulated under the Water Supply (Safety and Reliability) Act 2008 (the Act).

Although the Act imposes specific obligations, as a dam owner, you must still take responsibility for your dam and potential liability for the consequences of dam failure or the escape of water from the dam.

You are responsible for appropriately operating, inspecting and maintaining your dam at all times, even during times of drought when there is no yield.

Referable dams

Dams whose failure would put 2 or more people at risk are referable dams. These dams are regulated under the Act by the Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water, and their owners are required to meet certain requirements, such as having an approved emergency action plan for the dam.

There are over 100 referable dams across Queensland.

Referable dams are established through a failure impact assessment (FIA) (PDF, 2.2MB). A dam may also become a referable dam if the owner of the dam is given a referable dam notice (RDN) and then does not provide a FIA which establishes that there is no population at risk.

A FIA is an engineering assessment undertaken to understand the consequences of a dam failing and flooding downstream areas. The assessment’s focus is to identify people at risk.

An FIA must be conducted at the dam owner’s expense if a proposed dam is:

  • more than 10m high, with a storage capacity of more than 1,500 megalitres
  • or
  • more than 10m high, with a storage capacity of more than 750 megalitres and a catchment area that is more than 3 times its maximum surface area at full supply level.

A dam which doesn’t meet these height and storage capacity criteria may still be a referable dam if its failure has potential to put people at risk. This includes dams close to neighbouring residential areas or shallow but broad dams that store a large quantity of water.

If you have any concerns that people may be at risk if a dam were to fail, email damsafety@rdmw.qld.gov.au.

Hazardous waste dams are not referable dams but are subject to regulation under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 by the Department of Environment, Science and Innovation.

A dam which is not a referable dam can still cause impacts to property and environment and may be subject to other regulatory requirements. Learn more about requirements when building or buying a dam.

Read more about the Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water’s role as a dam regulator.

Is this an emergency?

Call 000 if lives are in immediate danger. Read more about emergencies at a dam.