Floodplain Information

Page Contents


New Flood Maps Adopted

In April 2015 FEMA published preliminary flood maps for approximately half of Durham City and County FEMA flooding sources (streams & rivers). The preliminary study ensured that all City/County FEMA flooding source studies included 1% Future Conditions floodplain data, as required by the City-County Unified Development Ordinance. The City Council adopted the new maps and data for use in the development review process on September 4, 2018. FEMA will publish the new maps and data as effective for flood insurance purposes on October 19, 2018.


Flooding occurs when a normally dry area becomes covered in water or some other liquid. Flooding is often caused by rain. However, it can also happen because of dam failures, melting snow and ice, seeping groundwater, and damaged water or sewer pipes. Your property can be damaged by flooding even if you don’t live next to a stream or lake! These types of flooding can be hard to predict.

[Back to Top]


Flooding of land near waterways (such as streams, rivers, and lakes) during storms can occur because of rising water levels. These areas are called floodplains. Flooding can vary with each storm based on the amount of rain, how hard it is raining, and how long it rains. Several measures are in place to help protect residents from flooding. The United States Geological Survey monitors water levels and has an alert system in place. In many locations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has mapped flood prone areas and estimated how likely they are to flood. These maps are called Flood Insurance Rate Maps or FIRMs.

 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.

[Back to Top]

National Flood Insurance Program

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was created by Congress in 1968 to reduce the risks associated with flooding. Such risks include those to lives, property, or the financial stability of a community. Nearly every flood prone area in North Carolina, including Durham, is part of this program.

Because it is a part of the NFIP, Durham can receive federal aid after the president declares a disaster. Durham residents can also purchase federally subsidized flood insurance (whether or not their property is in a FEMA mapped floodplain). Federally subsidized flood insurance costs about half as much as non-subsidized flood insurance.

In return, Durham has to take steps to reduce local flooding risks. These include adopting and enforcing floodplain development rules and requiring permits for any activity that disturbs land in a FEMA mapped floodplain.  The City of Durham currently has an 8 rating in FEMA’s Community Rating System, saving property owners with buildings in FEMA Special Flood Hazard Areas 15 percent on flood insurance rates.

[Back to Top]

Floodplain Regulations

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 structures like fences, sign posts, 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 swimming pools, sheds, and picnic tables also require permits to make sure they are properly anchored in place.


If you have questions about Durham’s floodplain development standards and permitting, contact the City-County Planning Department.

The location and the extent of the proposed floodplain disturbance will determine what requirements apply.

[Back to Top]

Who is Required to Have Flood Insurance?

Flood insurance is an important part of protecting your property. Property in a mapped floodplain is five times more likely to be damaged by a flood than by a fire. There is a 26% chance that such a property will be flooded during a 30 year mortgage.

In NFIP communities, the federal government requires flood insurance for buildings in a Special Flood Hazard Area that are financed through a federally backed mortgage or loan. (Lenders may require flood insurance for other types of loans as well.)

If you live outside a mapped floodplain your property may still be damaged by a flood. About 25% of all flood damage occurs outside mapped flood zones. Standard home insurance policies do not cover flooding due to rising waters.

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. Check with your insurance agent or visit the web site to find out more.

[Back to Top]

How to Find Out if a Property is in a Mapped Floodplain

[Back to Top]

How to Get Flood Insurance

Your current insurance agent can help you get flood insurance. Most companies can write a NFIP flood insurance policy for you. If you need more help, www.FloodSmart.gov can provide you with names of local agents that provide NFIP flood insurance. You may also call the toll free number (888) 379-9531 to ask for a flood insurance agent referral.

[Back to Top]

Hazard Mitigation Planning

The City of Durham and Durham County participate in regional planning efforts with Alamance, Orange, and Person Counties, including 13 other towns and cities, to mitigate the effects of potential disasters.  Floodplains and flooding represent one of the potential risks covered by these planning efforts.  Public Works Department staff work with Durham County Emergency Management, City-County Development Services Center, and the Local Emergency Planning Committee to develop and maintain floodplain hazard mitigation efforts.  Links related to the Eno-Haw Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) are below.