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Contact information
DNR Dam Safety
DNR Dam Safety Program, WT/3
101 South Webster Street
PO BOX 7921
Madison WI 53707–7921

Dam SafetyDam Transfer of Ownership


If you are considering selling or buying a property which includes a dam, notify your real estate agent early in the transfer process. Realtors, attorneys, and lenders are required by law to advise clients of these requirements. If dam transfer requirements are not met, the real estate transaction may be voided.

A permit is required to transfer ownership of large and small dams that are State regulated and located on navigable streams. In general, both the seller of property on which a dam is located and the buyer of the property must cooperate to complete a dam transfer application. An inspection is required prior to transferring the property and dam, as well as a description of any repairs needed to bring the dam into compliance with safety standards. The buyer must show financial capability to maintain the dam for a minimum of 10 years.

The process is slightly different for large and small dams that are State regulated and located on nonnavigable streams. Note that navigability determinations are defined by today’s standards rather than at the time of original dam construction. The buyer just shows adequate financial capability to maintain the dam and the Department issues a “transfer approval”.

Responsibility for the repairs may be negotiated between the buyer and seller. Generally, repairs needed to bring the dam into compliance with safety standards shall be completed prior to the transfer. In some situations, arrangements can be made to complete repairs during or after the transfer as long as the repair costs are included as part of the financial capability determination.

Contact your WI DNR Regional Water Management Specialist for information about navigability. Contact your WI DNR Regional Water Management Engineer for more information about the transfer application process.

Exemptions and permits

  • There are no exemptions for dam transfer of ownership.
  • Water Permits - Select "Dams" and then find the activity, "Transfer of Ownership", Begin IP application.

State regulations limit who can assume ownership of a dam. Under Ch. 31, Wis. Stats., lake districts formed under Ch. 33, Wis. Stats., have been considered municipalities. Ownership of a dam can be transferred from:

  • Private individual to another private individual
  • Private individual to a municipality
  • Municipality to another municipality.

Under no circumstances may a foreign individual or corporation assume ownership of a dam nor may a dam be transferred from municipal ownership to private ownership. Also, dams constructed as part of a cranberry operation are exempted from state regulations regarding the transfer of ownership.


Applicable statutes and codes include Section 31, Wis. Stats. [exit DNR], Chapter NR 333 [exit DNR] and Chapter NR 710 [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(exit DNR)

Last revised: Monday March 30 2020