Drainage Issues - Frequently Asked Questions

What is stormwater?
Stormwater is excess water that cannot infiltrate into the soil or be absorbed by vegetation and it flows through pipes, gutters, swales, or over land. It washes pollutants such as soil, trash, automotive fluids, fertilizers, and detergents into our creeks, rivers, and lakes. In heavy storms, it can cause flash flooding and intensify drainage problems.

The stream in my backyard floods. Will the Town address this flooding?
The Town only maintains drainage in public easements or within public roads and right-of-ways. Maintenance of drainage systems on private property is the responsibility of the property owner.

The streambank on my property is eroding. What can I do?
If your streambank is lined with a natural buffer of trees or shrubs, keep them in place as they are helping to stabilize the soil. Cutting this vegetation back or mowing right up to the streambank will accelerate erosion. The NC State Cooperative Extension provides some guidance on how to reinforce streambanks (PDF). These streambank concerns are private property issues.

Can I add a fence or plant shrubs within a public easement?
Town specifications do not allow structures or plantings within Town easements. The easement area is to remain clear of obstructions for ease of Town inspection and maintenance. Upon written approval by the Water Resources Department, fences may be permitted across easements, provided that an access gate is installed with a minimum width of 14 feet.

Can my neighbor direct their water on to my land?
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, and federal, state or local governments. 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.

What can be done with the water once it enters my property?
The water can be addressed in any manner, so long as no blockage, impediment or obstruction occurs and it is discharged at 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.

Are there any State laws that pertain to drainage?
The General Law in North Carolina 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, drainage ways and easements that move water from higher elevations: Chapter 77, Article 2: Obstructions in Streams.

§ 77-13. Obstructing streams a misdemeanor.
 If any person, firm, or corporation shall fell any tree, or put any obstruction, except for the purposes of utilizing water as a motive power, in any branch, creek, stream, or other natural passage for water, whereby the natural flow of water through such passage is lessened or whereby the navigation of such stream may be impeded, delayed, or prevented, the person, firm, or corporation so offending shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. 

§ 77-14. Obstructions in streams and drainage ditches.
If any person, firm or corporation shall fell any tree or put any slabs, stumpage, sawdust, shavings, lime, refuse or any other substances in any creek, stream, river or natural or artificial drainage ravine or ditch, or in any other outlet which serves to remove water from any land whatsoever whereby the drainage of said land is impeded, delayed or prevented, the person, firm or corporation so offending shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. 

Who can I contact with specific questions?
Please let us know your concern here.