Dams, their safety, and building consents

Alert SymbolImportant - please read:

Under the Building Amendment Act 2013, the definition of a ‘large dam’ now 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. Read more »

Process map for constructing a large dam

Regulatory process map for constructing a large dam (71 KB)

A dam's safety is dependent on its design and construction, and how it is operated and maintained.

If you own a dam, pond, or canal in Otago, Southland or the West Coast, or are planning to construct, modify, or remove these structures or a structure associated with a dam in one of these regions, you must follow the processes described on this page.

Downloadable documents on this site are subject to change from time to time, so if you print a hard copy please check that it's up to date.

Useful guidance is provided by the New Zealand Society on Large Dams.

On this page


Building Consent guides

G01: When is a Building Consent required (62 KB)
G03: Public Information and Enquiries (97 KB)
G04: Receiving and Accepting applications (429 KB)
G05: Processing of Building Consent Applications (155 KB)
G06: Consultants (95 KB)
G07: Evidence of Compliance Process (137 KB)
G08: Granting and Issuing Building Consents (90 KB)
G09: Code Compliance Certificate and Compliance Schedule (121 KB)


Legal definition of a dam

On 28 November 2013, the Building Amendment Act 2013 came into effect, which has changed the definition of a "large dam" to now mean 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. Read more »


Otago Regional Council policy on dangerous dams

The Building Act 2004 introduced legislation for managing the safety of existing and new dams in New Zealand. Under this Act, regional councils must have a policy on how they will deal with dangerous dams, earthquake-prone dams and flood-prone dams in their region, and how the policy will apply to heritage dams.  

How to get a copy of the policy on dangerous dams, earthquake-prone dams, and flood-prone dams

Copies of this policy are available from Otago Regional Council offices in Dunedin, Queenstown, and Alexandra, or by phoning the Otago Regional Council, (03) 474 0827, or toll-free 0800 474 082.

You can email the Council at dams@orc.govt.nz to request a copy or download a copy below.

Policy on dangerous, earthquake-prone and flood-prone dams (114 KB)

Who is responsible for safe dams?

Dam owners are responsible for ensuring their dams are constructed, maintained, and operated safely and that they comply fully with the building code (Building Regulations 1992). The Building Act 2004 describes these responsibilities which apply to dams irrespective of their size, and also to their appurtenant structures. Appurtenant structure means a structure that's integral to the safe functioning of the dam as a structure for retaining water or other fluid.

Check with the Otago Regional Council (ORC) if you're uncertain whether something is an appurtenant structure.

Under the Building Act, ORC can instruct the owner of a dam in Otago to reduce or remove danger associated with their dam, or the council can do the work itself and recover costs from the dam owner.

Information on natural hazards in Otago can be found here.

View more information on dams and to read the definition of a dangerous dam as specified by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

View ORC's policy on dangerous, earthquake-prone and flood-prone dams (114 KB)

The policy applies only to dams in Otago and was intended to take effect three months after the government regulations came into force. The Government has revoked the dam safety regulations, and will not be developing the regulations needed to give effect to the policy. ORC is considering how to address this situation.

Environment Southland's policy on dangerous dams in Southland.

West Coast Regional Council's policy on dangerous dams on the West Coast.

Guidance on the safe operation of dams, as published by the New Zealand Society on Large Dams.

Who do I see about dams in Southland and on the West Coast?

From 1 July 2008, Otago Regional Council (ORC) has been responsible for building control for dams and their associated structures in the West Coast and Southland regions, along with certain dam safety management functions.

The West Coast Regional Council (WCRC) and Environment Southland (ES) retain some functions in their regions, such as the issuing of Project Information Memoranda (PIMs) for dams and maintaining a register of dams. They are also responsible for resource consents for dams in their region.

If you want a building consent, Code Compliance Certificate, or Certificate of Acceptance, then you must apply to ORC. Before 1 July 2008, these were handled by the district and city councils in Southland and the West Coast.

The district and city councils continue to issue PIMs for dams in accordance with the Building Act, in addition to the PIMs issued by the West Coast Regional Council and Environment Southland. 

How do I register my dam?

The Otago Regional Council is required under the Building Act to maintain a register of dams in Otago. The register enables ORC to contact dam owners when they need to, to discuss the regulations for managing dam safety. There is no charge for the dam registration service.

If you own a dam in Otago you should check with ORC as to whether your dam should be on our register. Phone 03 474-0827 or freephone 0800 474-082 or email dams@orc.govt.nz  

If you own a dam in Southland or the West Coast, you should check with Environment Southland or the West Coast Regional Council as to whether your dam is on their respective registers.

All building work must comply with the Building Code

Under the Building Act, all building work on dams must comply with the Building Code (Building Regulations 1992), irrespective of the size of the dam. This applies to the construction of new dams as well as the modification of existing dams even if they do not need building consent or resource consent. It also applies to a dam's appurtenant structures (see above). 

View a copy of the Building Code

ORC has a policy on enforcing the building code for dams:

View copy (Council/Committee paper)

Does dam construction need a building consent?

In addition to complying with the Building Code, most types of dam construction work in Otago, Southland and the West Coast also requires a building consent from ORC. These requirements apply to construction of new dams as well as modification of existing dams.

A building consent is also required for a dam's appurtenant structures. Dams that have a height of 4 or more metres and hold 20,000 or more cubic metres volume of water or other fluid, require building consent. Dams that do not meet these height and storage amounts do not require building consent, but must still comply with the Building Code. Building consent may not be required for certain maintenance or refurbishment work. 

You should check with ORC if you're uncertain whether a Building Consent is needed by phoning 03 474-0827 or freephone 0800 474-082 or emailing public.enquiries@orc.govt.nz . It is helpful to us if you give us early warning that you will or may be applying for a building consent.

More information on Building Consents for dams in Otago, Southland and the West Coast (228 KB) 

Do I need a resource consent for my dam?

A resource consent may also be required from ORC (for dams in Otago), or from Environment Southland (dams in Southland), or the West Coast Regional Council (dams on the West Coast) and from the district or city council, irrespective of whether a building consent is required. You should check with your regional council and your district or city council. Infomation on resource consents from ORC (for Otago) is here.  

How to apply for a Project Information Memorandum

For building work in Otago, you have the option of obtaining a Project Information Memorandum (PIM) from ORC. For building work in Southland or the West Coast you obtain it from the Regional Council in these areas. You can also obtain a PIM from the relevant district or city council.

The regional and district council PIMs contain information held by the two councils which may be relevant to your proposed building work, such as natural hazards. You can apply for the two PIMs at any time – you don't have to wait until you apply for a building consent.

While there is no legal requirement for you to obtain a PIM, it is recommended you obtain the two PIMs first, review information provided, and consider this information when desiging your dam. The PIMs may contain important information, therefore ORC considers them to be essential. Applications for building consents will be put on hold until ORC receives the two PIMs.

To apply for a Project Information Memorandum (PIM) from ORC (for building work in Otago), complete an application form which can be downloaded below and send it to:

Application form (179 KB)  

Otago Regional Council
Private Bag 1954
Dunedin

Or deliver it to us at:
70 Stafford St
Dunedin

ORC Dunedin staff will initially check your application has the necessary information for processing. If the application is not complete, it will be returned to you. Once the application has all the necessary information ORC has 20 working days from receipt to compile your PIM.

You will be charged a fee for processing your application. Cheques should be made out to Otago Regional Council.

More information about fees and charges (302 KB)

Contacts for other councils providing a PIM

Environment Southland
Ph 03 211 5115
service@es.govt.nz

Gore District Council
Ph 03 209 0330
info@goredc.govt.nz

West Coast Regional Council
Ph 0508 800 118
info@wcrc.govt.nz

Southland District Council
Ph 0800 732 732
emailsdc@southlanddc.govt.nz

Central Otago District Council
Ph 03 440 0056
info@codc.govt.nz

Invercargill City Council
Ph 03 211 1777
service@icc.govt.nz

Queenstown Lakes District Council
Ph 03 441 0499
service@qldc.govt.nz

Buller District Council
Ph 0800 807 239
info@bdc.govt.nz

Waitaki District Council
Ph 03 433 0300
service@waitaki.govt.co.nz

Grey District Council
Ph 03 769 8603
info@greydc.govt.nz

Clutha District Council
Ph 0800 801 350
Web: www.cluthadc.govt.nz

Westland District Council
Ph 03 756 9010
council@westlanddc.govt.nz

Dunedin City Council
Ph 03 477 4000
dcc@dcc.govt.nz

How to apply for a building consent

Application form

To apply for a consent for building work in Otago, Southland,  or the West Coast, you must complete an application form. The same form is used for all three regions.

Download a Building Consent application form (179 KB)

Deposit

Your application must be accompanied by a deposit toward the cost of processing. This cost usually exceeds the deposit, and you will be charged for all costs that exceed the deposit. 

More information about the deposit (302 KB)

All cheques should be made out to Otago Regional Council, even for building work in Southland and on the West Coast.

Project Information Memorandum

If you've already applied for and received a Project Information Memorandum (PIM) from ORC, Environment Southland, or the West Coast Regional Council, and one from your district or city council, these should be attached to the application. Even though obtaining the two PIMs is voluntary, it's recommended you do so, review the information provided with them, and consider this information as part of your design.

Information that must be included with your application

The application must be signed by the owner or the owner's appointed agent and be accompanied by the following information:

  1. Schedule of documents with the following information specified: document title, document date, document version number, and originator.
  2. Two hard copies of a design report stating data obtained and employed, design/checking methods and assumptions made including:
    1. Potential Impact Classification (PIC)
    2. Loading parameters
    3. Flood and freeboard considerations
    4. Seismic considerations
    5. Geotechnical considerations
    6. Stability or structural considerations
    7. Reservoir hazard considerations
    8. Flow control considerations
    9. Appurtenant structures
    10. Conduits
    11. Evidence of compliance with each relevant clause of the building code (Building Regulations 1992).
  3. Two hard copies of specification for construction
  4. Two hard copies of construction inspection schedule
  5. Two hard copies of drawings to construction standard including:
    1. location and site plan
    2. general arrangement
    3. foundations plan (including abutments)
    4. typical cross-sections
    5. long-section on dam centreline.
  6. Project Information Memorandum (issued by the territorial authority)
  7. Project Information Memorandum (issued by the regional authority)
  8. Development contribution notice
  9. Resource consent notice
  10. Certificate attached to Project Information Memorandum

Information in electronic form, such as on a CD or attached as a PDF to an email, will not be accepted. In accordance with Section 4(2) of the Building Act 2004, the plans (drawings) and specifications must be sufficient to result in building work that (if built to those plans and specifications) complies with the building code. Applications that contain any drawings or specifications that do not meet this standard will not be accepted for processing. 

Send the completed form and supporting information and payment for the deposit to:

Otago Regional Council
Private Bag 1954
Dunedin

Or deliver it in person to:

Otago Regional Council
70 Stafford Street
Dunedin

Otago Regional Council
William Fraser Building
Dunorling Street
Alexandra

Otago Regional Council
'The Station'
Cnr Camp & Shotover Streets
Queenstown

Environment Southland
Cnr North Rd and Price St
Invercargill

West Coast Regional Council
388 Main South Rd
Greymouth

How will my building consent application be processed?

ORC Dunedin staff will initially check your application has the necessary information for processing. If the application is incomplete, is not in the correct form, or does not have the correct deposit, it will be returned to you.

ORC has 20 working days from the receipt of a correct and complete application to make a decision on it. This applies to all applications, including those for building work in Southland and the West Coast.

Information on receiving and accepting applications (234 KB) 

How will the application be assessed?

ORC will engage an engineering consultant with expertise relevant to your proposed work to assess your application. The building work described in your application will be checked to see whether it complies with the Building Code.

More information on how your application is processed (228 KB) 

It is good practice to ensure that a professional engineer is aware that their work is, or may be, reviewed by another engineer. For that reason you (the applicant) should ensure that all professional engineers involved in the preparation and your application and its supporting documents are aware that their work will be assessed by another professional engineer. That assessment will take the form of a regulatory review, not a full design review.

Should you need to provide further information during processing, your application will be suspended until that information is provided.

What fees are payable for my application?

You'll be charged a fee for processing your application, based on actual costs, including staff and consultant time and disbursements. You must pay these costs even if your application is refused.

Fees will be deducted from the deposit you paid at the time you lodged the application. If the fees exceed the deposit, which is usually the case, then you will be invoiced for the outstanding balance.

If your building consent is to be granted, you will be issued with the Building Consent once you've paid all fees and levies. For building work greater than $20,000 value, you will also need to pay a levy which ORC collects on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ).

More information about fees and levies (302 KB)

For information on how MBIE and BRANZ use the collected levies, see below:

Collected levies for MBIE
Collected levies for BRANZ

Can I start work before a building consent is granted?

No, you cannot. It is an offence under the Building Act to start building work before the building consent being granted, even if you think it is likely that the building consent will be granted. You may be required to demolish any building work that has been undertaken prior to consent being granted.

How much time do I have before I must start building?

You must start building work within 12 months of the date of issue of your consent otherwise it will lapse automatically, unless the ORC has already agreed in writing to an extension in time. An extension in time must be obtained from the ORC prior to the 12 month lapse period. An extension in time cannot be approved retrospectively and you will need to apply for a new consent.

How will the building work be inspected?

When the consent is issued the ORC will attach a list of required inspections. The consent will state how much notice the ORC needs ahead of each inspection. ORC will engage an engineering consultant with expertise relevant to your proposed work to carry out inspections during the work or it may inspect the work itself. However, the dam owner (consent holder) is still responsible for ensuring the job is done properly according to the conditions of the Building Consent, and complies with the work described in the Building Consent.

You will be charged for the cost of inspecting your work, based on actual costs including staff and consultant time and disbursements.

More information about fees and charges (302 KB)
More information on building inspections (98 KB)

What should I do if designs change during construction?

If the design of your dam is modified in any way during construction, you will need to have your consent amended by the ORC. Check with us before changing anything.

How is building work certified after it is completed?

Once your building work has been completed, you must apply for a Code Compliance Certificate (CCC). If it is longer than 24 months since the building consent was granted and you have not applied for a CCC then the ORC must make a decision on whether to issue a CCC.

If you are applying for a CCC in relation to a building consent granted and issued by a district or city council (i.e. a consent granted and issued before 13 May 2008 in Otago), or before 1 July 2008 in Southland or the West Coast, then you must contact ORC before applying for a CCC to discuss how your application will be handled.  

A CCC will only be issued if the building work has been undertaken in accordance with the building consent and any amendments approved by ORC and all building consent conditions have been met and all fees and charges have been paid to ORC.

Download a CCC application form (64.2 KB)

More information on CCC's (181 KB)

You will be charged a fee for processing your application.

More information about fees and charges (302 KB)

Cheques should be made out to the Otago Regional Council, even for building work in Southland and on the West Coast.

Do I have to follow the building stages and conditions specified in the consent?

The consent will specify the stages of building work when work must stop and be inspected by ORC (e.g. placing compacted fill within the key-way trench, pouring concrete or placing reinforcing steel) before further building work can continue.

If you have not met all conditions, or not all required inspections have been undertaken by ORC's engineering consultant, the council can require removal or demolition or alteration of the building work, at the expense of the consent holder. In some cases, ORC may not be able to issue a CCC.

Want to know more?

For more information phone the ORC customer services staff on 03 474-0827 or freephone 0800 474-082 or email public.enquiries@orc.govt.nz  .

Council paper on dams and compliance in Otago (409 KB)

More information on dams and the Building Act from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website 

NZSOLD is a technical group of the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ). This site has information on dam safety and construction, including the proceedings of conferences at which papers on dam safety and background to the Building Act dam safety legislation have been presented.

More information on the NZ Society on Large Dams

More information on the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand and obtaining the services and advice of a professional engineer or Recognised Engineer

Historic information on some Otago dams from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Information on natural hazards in Otago 

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70 Stafford Street
Private Bag 1954
Dunedin 9054

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