The lake is privately owned and financed by Eton College, which spent £17 million developing it. Additional grants, totalling £500,000, were obtained from Sport England, UK Sport, the DCMS and SEEDA in order to build the lake's finish tower. The project was completed in 2006, after 10 years of construction. Although it is primarily for use by the school, the facilities are hired out for rowing, as well as for canoeing, dragon boating, open water swimming and triathlon.
The lake was used as the 2012 Summer Olympic venue for rowing and canoe sprint, and as the 2012 Summer Paralympic venue for rowing. For the duration of the Olympics, the lake was officially referred to as Eton Dorney. To provide for Olympic spectators, the existing facilities were enhanced to include 20,000 additional seats; most of these seats were temporary. Construction began in October 2009, following investigations by Oxford Archaeology, of enhancements to Dorney Lake, including a new cut-through between the competition lake and the return lane, a new bridge and an upgraded access road, funded by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). During the Olympic events, Dorney Lake was staffed by around 3,500 personnel including volunteers; it could accommodate up to 30,000 spectators per day. A temporary bridge linked the Dorney Lake site to Windsor Racecourse, where a pick-up and drop-off point for Olympic spectators was established. Other access options existed for walkers and cyclists.
The public is allowed to use the grounds of Dorney Lake when sporting events are not being run. The two-kilometre-long flat, straight paths that run along each side of the main lake make it a popular venue for runners, skaters, and even cross-country skiers practising with roller skis.