WM - Frequently Asked Questions



Where does Watershed Management have authority?

Wake County Watershed Management is primarily a regulatory division. We issue permits for new development in Wake County and selected municipal areas. We inspect construction projects in those areas as well. Once a project is complete, maintenance becomes the responsibility of the property owner.  

Impervious Area

What is the impervious limit for my lot?

Wake County regulates impervious area for each lot. In Swift Creek, you are limited to 6% or 12% built upon area. In other areas, you are limited by zoning. The maximum for any lot in the unincorporated area of Wake County is 30%. However, your limit may be 15% or a specific square footage depending on the stormwater permit requirements for your subdivision.

To determine the impervious area for your lot, the first step is to locate your lot on IMAPS. Then, open the recorded plat for your subdivision by clicking on Deed; looks like a sheet of paper (above the layers option). Locate your lot and find the impervious limit (shown in square feet). Additional information regarding impervious area can be reviewed in Wake County's presentation on Residential Lot Impervious Surface Area

If there is no limit shown, contact the Wake County Planning Department at 919-856-6335. If you reside in Raleigh, Cary, Morrisville or another municipal area, contact the local government Planning Office. 

Drainage Easements and Buffers

Does Wake County maintain drainage or buffers?

Wake County Environmental Services does NOT regulate Drainageway or Watershed Buffers. They are regulated by Wake County Planning's Zoning section. Please contact them with any questions regarding these types of buffers.

Wake County does not maintain roads or drainage easements. Public roads are maintained by NCDOT; private roads are the responsibility of the property owner.

Wake County has no authority to enforce the drainage easements of individual property owners.

Stormwater Runoff

Why is stormwater runoff a problem?

Stormwater runoff is the leading source of water pollution in our country. It can increase erosion and formation of gullies in upland areas, increase in-stream scour and erosion, increase sediment deposits in lower areas, degrade water quality, create peak storm flows that are higher and faster, and cause more frequent flooding. In urban areas that have significant amounts of impervious surfaces, and in areas that are cleared of vegetation, the effects of stormwater runoff are much greater than in areas where soil and vegetation can absorb excess water.

Erosion from New Home Construction

Do builders have to control erosion and sediment on their construction sites?

All new home construction install erosion control measures. Disturbances of less than 1 (one) acre are required to have a driveway with a minimum 10-foot-wide by 30-foot-long stone construction pad and silt fence consistent with Wake County Sedimentation and Erosion Control Section details installed. Seeding and mulching of disturbed area is required. Areas within 25 feet of the edge of pavement or gravel of the road must be stabilized before the issuance of a certificate of occupancy. IF A BUILDER HAS MULITPLE LOTS THAT TOTAL TO MORE THAN 1 ACRE OF DISTURBANCE, A LAND DISTURBANCE PERMIT IS REQUIRED.

Rural Lot Construction

If I am building a house outside of a subdivision, do I need a land disturbance permit?

If the disturbance (including tree removal) is less than 1 acre, no permit is required. Silt fence and construction entrance are still required. If the disturbance exceeds 1 acre, a permit is required.

Please contact Wake County Watershed Management to be exempted from the permit requirement.

Ponds and Lakes

My pond water looks cloudy. What is causing this?

You may be observing turbidity, which are suspended solids in the water. If your pond water is not clear or looks like chocolate milk after a heavy rain, the water is "turbid". Turbidity occurs when fine suspended particles of clay, silt, organic and inorganic matter, plankton and other microscopic organisms are picked up by water as it passes through a watershed. Turbidity levels are typically much higher in water from surface water sources such as streams, rivers and lakes than from groundwater sources. Some surface water sources exhibit high turbidity levels during periods of high rainfall.

Construction sites can affect the turbidity of surface waters. Wake County regulates and inspects construction sites and requires that all disturbed soil be controlled through approved Best Management Practices (BMPs) to prevent sediment from directly entering local water systems. If maintained properly, these BMPs can also help to control turbidity.

Cloudy runoff should stop when the construction site is fully stabilized with vegetation. If there is active construction impacting your pond, please contact Wake County at 919-856-7400.

Mud from construction sites

How do I report erosion problems?

If you have observed sediment leaving an active construction site, please contact Wake County at 909-856-7400, and we will investigate the problem.

Drainage Law

Are there laws about drainage?

Drainage Law in North Carolina is based on Common Law and court precedent. The law states that the person on the lower estate must receive and pass the water from the higher estate(s). Also, specific statutes prohibit the blockage of streams, drainageways and easements that remove water from higher elevations. For more specific information on the statutes go to www.ncga.state.nc.us.

Most drainage issues on private properties are civil matters.

Drainage Easements

Who is responsible for maintaining drainage easements?

Drainage easements are created to designate areas for the passage of surface water runoff. Individual property owners are responsible for the maintenance of any portion of a recorded drainage easement that is located on their property. For example, if a 20' drainage easement is located straight down a property line, each property owner is responsible for the 10' of the easement that is on his or her property. Easement issues are a private civil matter.

Drainage from adjoining properties

Can my neighbor direct his water onto my land?

Water flows downhill. A landowner may direct runoff down slope. If the higher landowner unreasonably diverts the flow of runoff, increases the flow, or contaminates the runoff in a way that causes material damage to the lower landowner, then the lower landowner can bring an action for an injunction and damages.

Landowners are considered equal under Common Law, whether they be private citizens, companies, road authorities, federal, state or local governments. So, if you get advice on Common Law drainage problems from a drainage contractor, a drainage engineer, a lawyer, a conservation authority, or a government agency, remember that it's not their responsibility to solve the problem. Only the courts can make a final decision in a dispute. To obtain a ruling by a court, a civil action must be initiated by the damaged party.

Drainage changes

Can I redirect water coming onto my property?

The water can be re-directed. You may not block the flow. You may re-route the runoff to or near the predominant low point of your property; however, other state and federal rules may apply, such as riparian buffer rules or wetland rules. Runoff may be contained within an existing easement or buffer.

Drainage problems are private property issues. You may require a qualified private consultant. If the drainage problem involves a shared easement, be sure both owners are involved in a solution.

To move an easement, you will need to re-record your plat. Please contact Wake County Planning.

Watershed Staff Contacts

How do I know who to contact for specific questions regarding stormwater and/or erosion control permitting and inspections?

Wake County staff is assigned by watershed. See the Wake County iMaps for an interactive map showing Watershed Areas. Locate your property in question, select "Layers" and turn on the Watershed sublayer for Watershed work areas. If you live in a municipal are such as Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Morrisville, … please contact the appropriate City staff.