Dam building consents

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

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). 

Otago Regional Council is responsible for building control for dams and their appurtenant structures in the Otago, West Coast and Southland regions, along with certain dam safety management functions.

A building consent from Otago Regional Council is required before you construct, alter, demolish or remove any dam, storage pond or canal that has a height of 4 or more metres and holds 20,000 or more cubic metres volume of water or other fluid. This requirement also applies to work on the construction site and work on structures that are integral to the dam.

Dams that do not meet these height and storage thresholds, and some repair and maintenance works, do not require building consent, but must still comply with the Building Code.

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 correct processes.

View a process map of the dam building consent process

We 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.

You can find out what is required and how the process works here:

Otago Regional Council is 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 Otago Regional Council.

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.

Construction, alteration, demolition and removal of any dam that has a height of 4 or more metres and hold 20,000 or more cubic metres volume of water or other fluid, requires building consent. Dams that do not meet these height and storage thresholds do not require building consent, but must still comply with the Building Code.

Under the Building Act 2004, a dam includes any artificial barrier constructed to hold water or other fluid under constant pressure in a reservoir. The Building Act definition includes canals, flood control dams, and natural features that have been significantly modified to function as a dam, but does not include stopbanks designed to control floodwaters.  

A building consent is also required for a dam's appurtenant structures (i.e. structures that are integral to its safe functioning) and for sitework such as earthworks associated with the work on the dam.

A building consent is a legal document certifying approval of proposed building work. It means that the Council is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the proposed work complies with the requirements of the Building Act 2004, Building Regulations and Building Code.

You must obtain a building consent before you begin any work on the dam.

Certain maintenance or refurbishment work is exempt from the requirement for a building consent. In general, this exemption provides for work that is needed to ensure the existing components and structures associated with the dam continue to function reliably.

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 about when a building consent is required, and work that is exempt, can be viewed here: G01: When is a Building Consent required

ORC cannot grant building consent if the proposed work will be on land that is subject to (or likely to be subject to) any natural hazards, unless we are satisfied that adequate provision will be made to protect the land, building work and property from the hazard or restore any damage resulting from the building work.

However, under section 72 of the Building Act 2004, this restriction can be waived if ORC considers that the building work will not result in a natural hazard or make an existing hazard worse on either the site of the work or on any other property.

If a waiver is granted but the hazard still exists after the proposed work has been completed, this may be registered against the title.

Natural hazards include:

  • erosion;
  • falling debris (including soil, rock, snow, and ice);
  • subsidence;
  • inundation from flooding, overland flow, storm surge, tidal effects, or ponding;

In most cases, information about natural hazards affecting the land will be identified on a Project Information Memorandum (PIM). Occasionally this may not be the case, and ORC will need to determine whether or not natural hazard provisions apply.

A resource consent may also be required from your regional council and/or your district or city council before you can begin any building work, irrespective of whether a building consent is required. You should check with your regional council and your district or city council. Information on resource consents for the Otago Region is here.

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 

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.

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 us, 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:
    Potential Impact Classification (PIC)
    b. Loading parameters
    c. Flood and freeboard considerations
    d. Seismic considerations
    e. Geotechnical considerations
    f. Stability or structural considerations
    g. Reservoir hazard considerations
    h. Flow control considerations
    i. Appurtenant structures
    j. Conduits
    k. 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:
    location and site plan
    b. general arrangement
    c. foundations plan (including abutments)
    d. typical cross-sections
    e. 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.

Acceptance of professional opinions (producer statements)

A producer statement is a professional opinion based on sound judgment and specialist expertise. Producer statements may be used as part of the documentation to support the design detailed in your application, but please note that ORC will only accept a producer statement if it is signed by a Chartered Professional Engineer in a relevant area of competency. The producer statement must be submitted using the latest version of the relevant form published by IPENZ (PS1 for a design report or PS2 for a design review). It must clearly describe the scope of the matters considered by the author, including a description of the specific components of the building work and the depth of the design review undertaken.

Specified systems

A specified system is a system or feature that is attached to or part of the dam structure and that is essential to the proper functioning of the dam or to its safety. Examples include sprinklers, fire alarms, lifts and mechanical ventilation systems. In some situations dam safety monitoring and warning systems could qualify as a specified system. Specified systems require ongoing inspection and maintenance to ensure they function as required.

Specified systems are listed in Schedule 1 of the Building (Specified Systems, Change the Use, and Earthquake-prone Buildings) Regulations 2005. If your proposed building work includes installation of a specified system, you will need to provide the following information as part of your application:

  • details of the design features of the specified systems
  • the proposed procedures for inspection, maintenance and reporting
  • the performance standard each system is supposed to meet for the life of the building.

This information will be used to compile a compliance schedule that will be issued with the building consent, setting out the ongoing requirements to ensure the system is appropriately maintained. It is ORC’s policy that the compliance schedule shall comply with the latest version of the Compliance Schedule Handbook published by MBIE. This handbook and further information on specified systems and compliance schedules are available on the MBIE website.

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

Environment Southland
Cnr North Rd and Price St
Invercargill

West Coast Regional Council
388 Main South Rd
Greymouth

For building work in Otago, we ask that you obtain a Project Information Memorandum (PIM). 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 designing your dam.  The PIMs may contain important information, therefore we consider 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) for building work in Otago, complete the below application form and send it to us.

Application form

Our 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 we will compile your PIM within 2 working days.

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

Fees and charges

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

Alterations or change of use

A building consent is required to make any alterations. You can make an application using the same form as for a new dam.

Application form

ORC may not grant a building consent for the alteration of an existing dam, or part of an existing dam, unless we are satisfied that after the alteration the dam will:

  1. Comply as nearly as is reasonably practicable with every provision of the Building Code that relates to:
  • means of escape from fire, and
  • access and facilities for people with disabilities, and
  1. Continue to comply with the other provisions of the Building Code to at least the same extent as before the alteration.

However, the Building Act provides for these requirements to be waived, if we give you written notice that we are satisfied that  the alteration will result in improvements relating to escape from fire or to disability facilities or access and that these improvements will outweigh the detriment likely to arise as a result of non-compliance with relevant building code provisions.

If the dam is classified as an industrial building and is not open to the public, or does not employ more than 10 people, then the requirement for disabled facilities does not apply.

If you wish to change the use of an existing dam to a situation in which the dam or its appurtenant structures are no longer used for the sole purpose of impounding fluid, you must give written notice of this to ORC. (Note that a change in how the impounded fluid is used - say from irrigation to hydro-electric generation - does not constitute a change in use in this context, although it might trigger resource consent requirements.) ORC will consider a request for a change of use against the same considerations as above.

Extension of specified intended life of a dam

You need to obtain written consent from ORC if you wish to do extend the life of an existing dam beyond any period that is identified in the building consent for the dam as the specified intended life. ORC will determine whether the requested extension is realistic and also whether the building consent includes a condition requiring that it shall be altered on or before the end of the specified intended life. If there is such a condition, ORC can only give consent to the extension if it is reasonably satisfied that the alteration has been made in accordance with the consent condition, and with the building code compliance requirements described above.

Otago Regional Council 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.

We will advise you in writing when your application when your application has been accepted for processing. Your application will be processed within 20 working days from the receipt of a correct and complete application. This applies to all applications, including those for building work in Southland and the West Coast.

More information on receiving and accepting applications

Once it has been accepted, your application will be assessed to make sure that the completed dam, when constructed, will comply with building code. ORC must grant consent if it is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the provisions of the building code would be met if the building work were properly completed in accordance with the plans and specifications that accompanied the application.

If we refuse your application, you will be advised in writing and reasons will be given for the decision.

If your application is granted, we will advise you by letter that it has been granted and is ready for issue on payment of outstanding fees and levies. The consent will be issued only upon payment of the fees and levies.

We 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, if the work were properly completed in accordance with the plans and specifications accompanying the application, it would comply with the Building Code and would meet other requirements of the Building Act 2004, including requirements relating to natural hazards, dam safety and compliance schedules. To grant building consent, ORC must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the provisions of the building code would be met if building work were properly completed in accordance with the plans and specifications accompanying the application. Resource consent requirements will also be checked, and if you have obtained a resource consent, whether it has conditions that are relevant to building standards.

More information on how your application is processed

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 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.

If the engineering consultant assessing your application considers the information in the application is not sufficient to enable appropriate assessment, a request for further information (‘RFI’) will be made to you.  Should you need to provide further information during processing, your application will be suspended until that information is provided. This means that the processing ‘clock’ will be stopped and the 20 day processing period will only continue once the information has been received by the engineer assessing your application.

You can amend your application during the period it is being processed, but must advise ORC so we can advise you what documentation of the amendment will be required. The processing period will be suspended until the engineer assessing your application receives the necessary amendment information.

The building consent may be granted with conditions that you need to comply with. The ability to use conditions to control how the consent is exercised is very limited, but conditions may be imposed in relation to:

  • Any approved waivers and modifications to the Building Code
  • Notifications about natural hazards on the land title
  • Restriction on transfer of allotments if the dam is built over two or more allotments
  • Inspections or other evidence of compliance required
  • The consent will be subject to a condition enabling ORC or its consultants to carry out any inspections that are required while building work is underway.

Specifications as to the intended life of the dam and any alterations that need to be made before that period ends.

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. If you need a resource consent, you will also need to wait until this has been granted before you begin the work. You may be required to demolish any building work that has been undertaken prior to building consent or resource consent being granted. 

You must start building work within 12 months of the date of issue of your consent otherwise it will lapse automatically, unless we have agreed in writing to an extension in time. An extension in time must be obtained 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.

When the consent is issued we will attach, as conditions of the consent, a list of inspections and/or other evidence of compliance required at specific points in the construction process. The purpose of these is to confirm that the dam is being constructed in accordance with the plans and specifications in the consent.

The consent will state how much notice we need ahead of each inspection, the information you will need to make available on-site and any other special requirements (for example, if safety equipment is needed). It is your responsibility to contact ORC to request an inspection when construction has progressed to the appropriate stage.  We will engage an engineering consultant with expertise relevant to your proposed work to carry out inspections during the work or ORC 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.

In some circumstances, evidence of compliance will be required in the form of information (e.g. post-excavation to confirm the substrate) or a technical assessment by a Chartered Professional Engineer (known as a producer statement).  This evidence will also be reviewed by an engineering consultant with relevant expertise.

When the inspection or review of evidence has been completed, you will be advised of the outcome and any further action required. If any areas of non-compliance have been identified, you will be required to address these. If you do not take appropriate action, you may be issued with a Notice to Fix. This is a statutory notice requiring a person to remedy a breach of the Building Act 2004 or the Building Regulations within a stated timeframe.

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

More information about fees and charges
More information on building inspections/ evidence of compliance

The consent will specify the stages of building work when work must stop and be inspected by us (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 our 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, we may not be able to issue a CCC.

If the design of your dam is modified in any way during construction, you will need to have your consent amended. Check with us before changing anything. We will determine whether the modification can be addressed as a minor variation which just needs to be recorded on the consented plans and other records, or whether you will need to formally amend the consent. A formal amendment will be needed if the modification will affect compliance with the building code.  

If a formal amendment is required, you will need to complete and submit a new building consent application form.

Please note that when there are amendments to a previously issued building consent the time-frame for issue of the code compliance certificate may need to be amended. If the amendments result in a change to the value of the proposed building work then fees and levies will also be recalculated.

Once your building work has been completed, you must apply to Otago Regional Council for a Code Compliance Certificate (CCC). The Code Compliance Certificate confirms that the project has been legally constructed in accordance with the building consent and in compliance with the Building Code. The Code Compliance Certificate confirms that ORC is reasonably satisfied that the project has been constructed in accordance with the building consent and in compliance with the Building Code.

If it is longer than 24 months since the building consent was granted and you have not applied for a CCC then we 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.

An application for a CCC must be made using the form below:

Download a CCC application form

You must also provide the following supporting documents:

  • Evidence of ownership and other relevant information about restrictions on the land (such as consent notices, encumbrances, building line restrictions and caveats)
  • Certificates from the personnel who carried out the work confirming what work they were responsible for
  • Certificates relating to energy work (if nominated as part of the consent) e.g. electrical certificates
  • Evidence that specified systems are capable of performing to the performance standards set out in the building consent
  • Any additional documentation requested during inspections.

When your application is received, it will be checked to ensure it has the necessary information for processing. If the application is incomplete, it will be returned to you. Once the application is accepted as complete, it will be assessed by an engineering consultant and a decision will be made within 20 working days. If the consultant assessing the application needs additional information, a request for further information (‘RFI’) will be made to you, and the 20 day period will be suspended. The processing ‘clock’ will continue once the consultant assessing the application has received the requested information.   

A CCC will only be issued if ORC is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the building work has been completed in accordance with the building consent and any approved amendments, that all building consent conditions have been met and all fees and charges have been paid.

More information on CCCs

You will be charged a fee for processing your application.

More information about fees and charges

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

Any dam that has a specified system must have a compliance schedule. The compliance schedule describes the specified systems and their performance standards, and sets out the inspection, maintenance and reporting requirements for each specified system. It will generally be issued at the same time as the Code Compliance Certificate. The compliance schedule will generally be retained in the dam to which it relates, and is required to be available for inspection by any person who has the right to inspect the dam under the Act.

If your dam has a compliance schedule, you will be required to provide a Building Warrant of Fitness to ORC annually. A Building Warrant of Fitness (BWOF) is a declaration by the dam owner stating that the specified systems have been maintained in accordance with the Compliance Schedule. This certifies that the inspection, maintenance and reporting procedures in the schedule have been fully complied with during the previous 12 months.

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. These fees are applicable to applications for Building Consent, Code Compliance Certificate or Certificate of Acceptance.

Fees will be deducted from the deposit you paid at the time you lodged the application if the application is for a Building Consent or Certificate of Acceptance. If the fees exceed the deposit, which is usually the case, then you will be invoiced for the outstanding balance. As a deposit is not required for a Code Compliance Certificate application, all related fees will be invoiced at the completion of the process.

You may also require inspections during the construction phase.  If this is the case, you will be charged actual and reasonable costs of staff and consultant time.  This will be invoiced following the inspection or at the completion of the processing of the Code Compliance Certificate application. 

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 Otago Regional Council collects on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ).

Current fees and levies

In some cases, a development contribution may also be required by your local council. A notice of any development contribution requirements will be issued with the PIM or with the building consent. Any development contribution must be paid before a Code Compliance Certificate can be issued.

If you have concerns about how any part of the process is being handled, please contact ORC on freephone 0800 474 082 or email public.enquiries@orc.govt.nz and we will do our best to resolve the concern.

You can also make a formal complaint, either verbally or in writing.  ORC's complaint policy and procedures ensure appropriate levels of objectivity and fairness to all parties, enables complaints to be prioritised and provides remedies proportional to the issue raised. Your complaint will be recorded and referred to the appropriate person to address. We will endeavour to investigate and respond to any complaint within the following timeframes:

  • Emergency complaints associated with significant injury or potential loss of life – 2 hours
  • Urgent complaints associated with major disruption, property damage or less significant threats to people – 48 hours
  • Other complaints - 5 working days.

The person responsible for dealing with the complaint will write to you advising the outcome and the remedy. If we are unable for any reason to deal with the complaint within the timeframes above, we contact you to let you know this, why it has happened and when you can expect a response.

If a dam owner disagrees with a technical decision made by the Building Consent Authority in relation to a consent, inspection/ evidence of compliance or Code Compliance Certificate, they may dispute the decision to the Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) via the process of a determination. A determination is a decision made by MBIE after considering all relevant information relating to the dispute. It provides a way of solving disputes or questions about whether something complies with the Building Code or decisions made by BCAs, councils and regional authorities under the Building Act.

For more information about determination, see the MBIE website.

The Otago Regional Council is required under the Building Act to maintain a register of dams in Otago. The register enables us to contact dam owners if we need 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 us as to whether your dam should be on our register. Phone 03 474-0827 or freephone 0800 474-082 or email public.enquiries@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.

For more information phone our customer services staff on freephone 0800 474 082 or email public.enquiries@orc.govt.nz.

Find out 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.   Find out more information on the NZ Society on Large Dams.

Find out historic information on some Otago dams from the Heritage New Zealand.

Dangerous dams

Otago Regional Council policy on dangerous dams Read more

Building consent guides

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. View the guides needed for building consents here. Read more

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