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New dam construction


Dam construction

A dam is any artificial barrier in or across a watercourse which has the primary purpose of impounding or diverting water. A dam includes all appurtenant works, such as a dike, canal or powerhouse.

Dams have a significant impact on water quality, wildlife, public safety, water rights issues and land use in Wisconsin. Therefore, Chapter 31, Wis. Stats., authorizes the Wisconsin DNR to regulate new dams on both navigable and nonnavigable streams to ensure that dams are safely built, operated and maintained. The law outlines dam construction, permitting, safety, operation and maintenance. Supplementing the law are administrative rules, such as Chapter NR 333, Wis. Adm. Code, that provides design and construction standards for large dams.

Permits or plan approvals are required for new dams on both navigable and nonnavigable waterways (streams, creeks or rivers). A fee is required. During the review process, the DNR evaluates the project plans from both an engineering perspective and the potential impacts the project will have on the waterway. A new dam will need to be designed by a professional engineer registered in Wisconsin. The DNR staff will also review what potential impacts the project will have on fish and wildlife, water quality, navigation and similar interests.

Before you develop formal plans, it is recommended that you schedule a pre-application meeting with the DNR staff to discuss permit requirements and project planning. The DNR staff can also provide you with an early indication of factors that require consideration and the likelihood of project approval or denial. Please contact the local water management engineer and local water management specialist to arrange a pre-application meeting.

Exemptions and permits

  • There are no exemptions for new dam construction.
  • Water permits - choose the "Waterway and wetland" tab and then find activity "Dam - New Construction."

Federal law requires landowners of construction sites with one acre or more of land disturbance to address erosion control and storm water management. If your project involves the disturbance of an acre or more, please visit Water permits to apply for a storm water permit.


Applicable statutes and codes include Section 31, Wis. Stats. [PDF exit DNR] and Chapter NR 333, Wis. Adm. Code [PDF exit DNR].

Local permits and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations may also apply. We advise you to contact your local zoning office and your regional U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office [PDF exit DNR].

Contact information
DNR Dam Safety
DNR Dam Safety Program, WT/3
101 S Webster St
PO Box 7921
Madison WI 53707–7921