Harvestable rights – dams

Harvestable rights – dams

Rural landholders in NSW can build dams on minor streams and capture 10 per cent of the average regional rainfall run-off on land in the Central and Eastern Divisions, and up to 100 per cent on land in the Western Division.

The maximum harvestable right dam capacity (MHRDC) is the total dam capacity allowed under the harvestable right for your property and takes into account rainfall and variations in rainfall pattern. The Harvestable Rights Orders are published in the NSW Government Gazette 40 dated 31 March 2006 (pages 1628 to 1631) (PDF, 259.84 KB).

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) is undertaking a review of harvestable rights limits in coastal-draining areas. For more information on changes to coastal harvestable right limits visit DPIE's website.

If you want to construct a dam that is larger than the MHRDC, you will need to licence the volume of water that exceeds the MHRDC. You will also need to hold an approval for a dam which exceeds the MHRDC.

Maximum harvestable right calculator

To calculate your MHRDC, go to the maximum harvestable right calculator. Note the limitations to the calculator and ensure you keep a record of your calculations.

Constructing dams which do not need a water access licence

For more information on harvestable right dams and licensing, see the fact sheets below:

When calculating your harvestable right, you may also need to take into account:

  1. Dams built before 1999 and used only for stock and domestic purposes.
    Licences are not required for dams built before 1 January 1999 that exceed the MHRDC provided these dams are:
    • only used for stock and domestic watering purposes
    • are located on a minor stream
    • the water is being used only on the landholding on which the dam is located.

    These dams must be included when assessing your right to build additional harvestable right dams.

  2. Dams up to one megalitre on small properties
    Licences are not required for dams up to one megalitre in size on small properties where the MHRDC is less than one megalitre and where the property was approved for subdivision before 1 January 1999.

    No further harvestable right dams may be constructed and any new dams above this allowance must be licensed. For more information, see about licences.

  3. Special dams which are not included in harvestable right calculations
    Refer to the fact sheet Dams in NSW – do you need a licence? (PDF, 528.12 KB)

Building a Dam

When building a dam, it is important that the appropriate approval or licence has been obtained if this is required. Make sure that the dam is carefully located so it is effective, safe and has minimal impacts on neighbours and the environment. You will also need to ensure construction of the dam meets any other legal requirements, such as local council regulations, or consents from government agencies.

Minimal impacts and erosion control

Seek expert advice regarding the dam design and location before commencing construction of any farm or other dam. Even if you do not require an approval for your dam, it is still your responsibility to minimise impacts on your neighbours and the environment. Discuss the matter with your neighbours before constructing a new dam.

Also ensure that during all stages of construction you provide adequate erosion control and minimise disturbance to waterways, areas of native vegetation, sites of cultural significance and avoid disturbing acid sulphate soils in coastal areas.


Apart from determining whether your new dam needs an approval or WAL, you may need other consents. These may include consents relating to fish passage and/or local planning regulations.

Fish passage
Under the Fisheries Management Act 1994, any new dam or modification to an existing dam may require the owner to provide for fish passage. Contact your local NSW Department of Primary Industries Fisheries office for further advice. All licensed works must be referred but works not licensed may still require fish passage.

Local planning regulations
In many local government areas, local environment plans and other planning regulations require consent for construction of dams. Contact your local council for further advice.

Other consents may also be required. For more information on consents, contact the Customer Helpdesk on 1300 662 077 or email Customer.Helpdesk@waternsw.com.au


Saturday 27 November
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Saturday 27 November