The main purpose of floodplain rules is to provide a safe place for rising flood waters. Preserving natural floodplains reduces flooding in developed areas. This prevents expensive damage to buildings and roads. It also helps protect the quality of the water that we drink and conserves plant and wildlife habitat. Along with other measures, these rules are also required to make federally subsidized flood insurance available to Durham residents. 

In Durham, floodplain development is regulated through the Floodplain and Flood Damage Protection Standards in the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). Any activity that will disturb land in a FEMA mapped floodplain requires a floodplain development permit. This means permits may be required not only for buildings but also construction of things like fences, signposts, and trails. It is important to keep floodplains clear of items that could float downstream in a flood and cause damage. This means that items such as above-ground swimming pools, sheds, and picnic tables also require permits to make sure they are properly anchored in place. The location and the extent of the proposed floodplain disturbance will determine what requirements apply.

If you have questions about Durham’s floodplain development standards and permitting, contact us at [email protected].

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) defines a floodplain as any land area susceptible to being inundated by floodwaters from any source. This can include coastal areas impacted by storm surge, land along a river or bayou that is flooded when that waterway rises out of its banks, or low-lying land that fills with water when it rains. Flooding occurs in a wide range of landscapes due to rainfall or storm surge.

In addition to being a natural phenomenon, a floodplain is a legally defined concept. FEMA designates floodplains nationwide, which are used for several purposes: 

  • The designated floodplains are used to set rates for flood insurance. 
  • Mortgage issuers usually require flood insurance for any property in the designated floodplain. 
  • Cities set special building regulations for properties inside the designated floodplain. 
  • Models based on designated floodplains can be used to warn residents of impending flooding and to issue evacuation orders.

1. Applications

  1. Floodplain Permit Application
  2. Floodplain Owner Authorization Form

2. Additional Resources

  1. Checklists
    1. Floodplain Development Permit Application Checklist
    2. Floodplain As-built Submittal Checklist
    3. Floodplain Impact Plan Checklist
    4. Floodplain Impact Narrative Checklist
    5. Floodplain As-built Checklist
    6. Engineer Certification Letter Checklist
    7. No-Impact Checklist
    8. CLOMR Checklist
    9. Floodplain Cost Estimate Checklist
  2. Calculations and Notes
    1. Flood-Related Hazard Calculations
    2. Floodplain Cover Sheet Notes
    3. Floodplain Cost Estimate Spreadsheet
  3. Durham Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)
    1. Unified Development Ordinance: Section 3.21
    2. Unified Development Ordinance: Section 8.4

3. Federal Resources

  1. Flood Risk Information System (FRIS)
  2. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  3. USACE - US Army Corps of Engineers
  4. DENR - Department of Environment and Natural Resources


Is my property within a Floodplain?

For more information about floodplain determinations for your property, or site development, please contact our City-County Planning Department at [email protected]. Please provide your telephone number, your address, site inquiry address, and a complete description of your request.

Can I build or renovate in the Floodplain?

Whether you can build or renovate in the floodplain depends on:

  1. Where the property is in the floodplain.
  2. If the building's floor is above the required elevation.
  3. The cost of renovation compared to the value of the existing structure.

Building codes are different in the floodplain than outside of the floodplain. A Floodplain permit is required before any floodplain construction takes place to make sure it complies with the additional regulations. Floodplain development restrictions apply to grading, new construction, and some renovations on property with floodplain on it.

For determination and next steps email [email protected].

Am I required to have flood insurance?

If you own or rent property in Durham, you can obtain flood insurance at NFIP rates. For buildings not mapped in Special Flood Hazard Areas, Preferred Risk Policies can be obtained at a fraction of full risk rates. Your current insurance agent can help you get flood insurance. Most insurance companies can write a NFIP flood insurance policy for you. Click the link to find a provider https://www.floodsmart.gov/flood-insurance-provider.

Flood Safety Tips

Myth: The “100 Year Flood” should only happen once every 100 years.

Fact: The “100 Year Flood” actually has a 1% chance of happening in any given year. These floods can occur far more often than once every hundred years. Homes in these areas have a 26% chance of such a flood occurring during a 30 year mortgage period.



Stormwater is runoff that occurs when rain water falls onto surfaces like roads, roofs, driveways, and parking lots and does not soak into the ground. For more information about Durham stormwater services, please contact the Stormwater and GIS Division on the 3rd floor of City Hall, 101 City Hall Plaza, in the Public Works Department. You may also report stormwater concerns by calling 919-560-7946 or by submitting a Stormwater Pollution Report. 

Stream Buffers

Stream buffers are vegetated areas along and adjacent to streams where clearing, grading, filling, building of structures, and other activities are limited or prohibited. Stream buffers protect water quality, reduce flooding, and provide other benefits.

See more in Unified Development Ordinance: Section 8.5

Watershed Protection Overlay

A watershed protection overlay is an additional set of regulations placed on land within a specified distance from and draining to a drinking water supply reservoir. These overlays are designed to protect the water quality.

See more in Unified Development Ordinance: Section 8.7


Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year, or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season.

See more in Unified Development Ordinance: Section 8.9

Application and Payment Portals

Payment Portal

Submittal Portal

Please use the portal below to submit your application. If the online form is not working, please contact us at [email protected]