401 & Buffer Permitting Unit
Frequently Asked Questions
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What is a riparian buffer?
How do riparian buffers work?
How are riparian buffers beneficial?
Can I use the online soil survey to determine if a stream is subject?
What is diffuse flow?
Where are riparian buffer protection programs in place?
Are there other programs with buffer or setbacks on surface waters?
Where do the riparian buffer rules apply?
Are there provisions to allow existing uses to remain in the riparian buffer?
What uses are allowed within the riparian buffer?
What restoration is required if the riparian buffer is cleared without a buffer authorization?
When do I need a buffer authorization?
When do I need a variance?
How do I apply for a buffer authorization or variance?
Where do I send my buffer authorization or variance application?
Is there an application fee?
How can I track the status of my application or if I have questions about riparian buffer rules?
How can I access the project files?
Is there an Express Review option?
Are there any local governments delegated to implement the riparian buffer protection programs?
A riparian buffer is a vegetated area bordering a body of water, such as a stream, lake or pond.
The vegetated area closest to the body of water stabilizes the streambank and provides shade and habitat for aquatic life. The vegetation also acts like a filter and sponge to remove, transform, or store nutrients and other pollutants. The outer reaches of the vegetated buffer slow and spread out the flow of water over the land, trapping sediment and attached pollutants
Riparian buffers filter stormwater runoff before it enters the stream. The vegetation within the buffer absorbs excess nutrients and sediment, controls erosion, moderates water temperature and provides habitat for wildlife. They also provide flood control and protect property.
Can I use the online soil survey maps to determine if a stream is subject?
The most recent published version of the NRCS soil survey maps is the acceptable version to be used for applicability to the riparian buffer rules. Buffer Clarification Memo # 2007-0008 and the Interpretive Ruling on NRCS Soils Survey Map clarify this in more detail.
Diffuse flow refers to overland water flow that is spread out over the landscape, rather than concentrated in a defined channel or pipe.
There are state riparian buffer protection programs in the Neuse River Basin, Tar-Pamlico River Basin, Catawba River Basin, Randleman Lake Watershed, Jordan Lake Watershed and Goose Creek Watershed. There are also local buffer protection programs across the state.
Yes, there are many different programs. Stormwater programs include: Phase I and Phase II NPDES, Session Law 2006-246, Water Supply Watershed, Coastal Stormwater, High Quality Waters, Outstanding Resource Waters, Universal Stormwater Management and Goose Creek Watershed. There are also programs regulated under the Non-discharge (2T) rules with setbacks, including sewer extensions, irrigation systems and recycle systems. The Division of Land Resources implements a buffer on Trout waters.
In the Neuse River Basin, Tar-Pamlico River Basin and the Goose Creek Watershed the buffer applies to: intermittent streams, perennial streams, lakes, ponds, estuaries and modified natural streams that are depicted on the most recent printed version of the soil survey map prepared by the Natural Resources Conservation Service OR the 1:24,000 scale quadrangle topographic map prepared by the U.S. Geologic Survey.
In the Randleman Lake Watershed the buffer applies to: same as above OR if other site specific evidence indicates to DWR the presence of waters not shown on either of the two maps.
In the Catawba River Basin the buffer applies to: the Catawba River mainstem below Lake James and along mainstem lakes from and including Lake James to the South Carolina border in the Catawba River Basin. (Catawba buffer rules also apply to the South Fork of the Catawba river up to the 569’ elevation of Lake Wylie).
In the Jordan Lake Watershed the buffer applies to: intermittent streams, perennial streams, lakes, ponds and reservoirs that are depicted only on the following maps: the most recent printed version of the soil survey map prepared by the Natural Resources Conservation Service OR the 1:24,000 scale quadrangle topographic map prepared by the U.S. Geologic Survey OR a map approved by the Geographic Information Coordinating Council and by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission.
Yes. A use is considered “existing” if it was present within the riparian buffer prior to the effective date of that rule for DWR regulated activities (Neuse: July 22, 1997; Tar-Pamlico: January 1, 2000; Catawba: June 30, 2001; Randleman: April 1, 1999; Goose Creek: February 1, 2009; Jordan Lake: August 11, 2009 or the date of local government implementation for local government regulated activities). For more information about existing uses, please see the appropriate buffer rule(s).
The riparian buffer must be undisturbed, regardless of property size or type of land use. Within each set of buffer rules*, there is a Table of Uses for specific activities:
- Exempt uses are allowed in the riparian buffer without approval from the Division of Water Resources (DWR).
- (Potentially) allowable uses may occur in the buffer after written authorization from DWR (some of these impacts may require mitigation for the impacts).
- Prohibited uses are not allowed in the buffer unless a variance is granted from the N.C. Environmental Management Commission.
- Activities not listed in the Table of Uses are prohibited.
The Dvision’s clarification memo #2008-016 outlines the requirements.
A buffer authorization, or a “no practical alternatives” determination, is required for any use that is designated as “(potentially) allowable” or “(potentially) allowable with mitigation” within the applicable buffer rule (see above for definition of uses).
A variance is required for any activity that is listed as “prohibited” in the Table of Uses or that is not listed in the Table of Uses (see above for definition of uses). Variances transfer with the property and, once approved by the DWR, the variance does not expire. There are two types of variances*, major and minor.
Minor Variances are for impacts to Zone 2 of the buffer only. Approvals for minor variances may be granted by DWR or the delegated local program.
Major Variances are for impacts to Zone 1 or Zones 1 and 2 of the buffer. Approvals for major variances may only be granted by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission.
* The Catawba rules only allow one type of variance which may be granted by DWR staff.
* The Goose Creek rules only allow for one type of variance which can only be granted by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission.
The pre-construction notification (PCN) form is used to apply for buffer authorizations, which includes a “no practical alternatives” determination. For variance applications, click here.
Please send your completed application with all attachments to:
NC DWR, 401 & Buffer Permitting Unit
1650 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27669-1650.
No, there is no application fee for buffer authorizations or variances.
For questions about the riparian buffer rules, contact your local Surface Water Protection Regional Office Staff or Jennifer Burdette in the Central Office at 919-807-6364.
For minor variances and buffer authorizations in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico Basins in the coastal counties (except for Carteret, Duplin and Onslow counties), contact the Washington Regional Office. Questions regarding the riparian buffer rules in Carteret, Duplin and Onslow counties can be directed to the Wilmington Regional Office.
For minor variances and buffer authorizations in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico Basins in the non-coastal counties contact the Raleigh Regional Office.
For all major variance applications in every riparian buffer basin contact Jennifer Burdette at 919-807-6364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please go our electronic document management system to view and print files for projects that include buffer impacts, stream determinations, mitigation and 401 certifications and 401 stormwater management plans.
The Central Office is no longer accepting Express applications. The Washington and Wilmington Regional offices are still accepting Express projects. For more information about express review in those two regions click here.
Yes. As of August 1, 2011, these local governments are delegated:
- Neuse: Orange County, Pitt County, Town of Morrisville
- Tar-Pamlico: Pitt County
- Catawba: McDowell County, Burke County
- Goose Creek: Mecklenburg County (for the Town of Mint Hill Only)
- Randleman: All local governments within the watershed (includes Forsyth County, Guilford County, Randolph County, City of Winston-Salem, City of Archdale, City of Greensboro, City of High Point, Town of Jamestown, Town of Kernersville, City of Randleman, City of Trinity)
- Jordan: All local governments within the watershed. For a list of those local governments click here. For local government contact information click here. (Please note: As of August 11, 2009, DWR implements the Jordan Buffer Rules for all or portions of Forsyth, Randolph, Alamance, Chatham, Caswell and Rockingham Counties and all or portions of the Towns of Summerfield, Reidsville, Ossipee and Alamance. DWR also implements the Jordan Buffer rules for any activities conducted under the authority of the State, United States, multiple jurisdictions or local units of government and all forestry and agriculture activities.)
When applicable, please contact the locally delegated government agency for more information about their program.