How to Build Dams With Rock & Soil

Building your own dam out of soil and rock can be a great way to increase the value of your property by creating a pond. It is necessary to know the correct way to use soil and rock together to construct a dam that will be safe and last. The soil should be sampled and analyzed to determine whether it is suitable for dam construction. If you plan to construct a dam larger than 12 feet you should contact the Department of Land and Water Conservation, and some dams will require environmental permits.

You can build your own dam with soil and rock.
  1. Mark the area for dam construction with stakes and clear away all vegetation.

  2. Remove and pile all of the topsoil from the dame site below where the dam wall will be. This fertile soil will be spread over the completed dam to help vegetation re-growth.

  3. Make a cut-off trench at least one foot deep and nine feet wide in the ground the dam will be over.

  4. Fill the cut-off trench with clay from the excavation and compact it by driving over it several times.

  5. Build the dam wall with layers of clay soil and rock. Each layer should only be half a foot height and compacted by the bulldozer before adding another layer of material. Soil that does not have clay in it should be placed on the downstream side of the wall. Rocks larger than three inches in diameter should not be used.

  6. Make an earthen spillway by constructing a channel that is big enough to allow overflow water to pas the dam without erosion. This spillway can be made from a large pipe, compacted clay or poured concrete lining and should be at least six feet from the top of the dam wall.

  7. Spread the topsoil over the dam wall and spillway and plant grass right away to help stabilizing vegetation to grow.


  • Incorrectly engineering a dam can cause flooding, damage to areas below and above the dam and harmful effects to the ecosystem of an area.

About the Author

Steve Stakland is a professional writer holding a Bachelor of Science in horticulture as well as a Bachelor of Science in philosophy from Brigham Young University. Stakland holds a master's degree in soil science from Utah State University and is pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy.