Floodplain Information

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Preliminary revised Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain mapping for the City of Durham and Durham County was released and has been available to the public since April 2015.  FEMA and the North Carolina State Floodplain Mapping Program have completed the necessary public notice and set the appeal period for the revised mapping as July 6 to October 3rd, 2016.  A public meeting to present the preliminary mapping was held July 28, 2016 at the Durham County Human Services Building.

Preliminary revised flood studies were conducted on approximately half of Durham City and County flooding sources (streams & rivers).  The preliminary studies indicate approximately 146 buildings have been added to the FEMA mapped floodplain and approximately 271 buildings have been removed from the FEMA mapped floodplain.  In addition, regulatory floodplain elevations will change on developed and undeveloped properties.  City of Durham landowners or other parties interested in how the revised maps may affect properties or flood insurance rates may send inquiries to City staff via email, or call the City at (919) 560-4326, ext. 28212.


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.

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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 are likely to 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.

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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.

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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 Development Services Center.

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

Durham City-County Floodplain Development Review Process
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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. Check with your insurance agent or visit the website to find out more.

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

The easiest way to tell if a property is in a FEMA mapped special flood hazard area is to check a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). You can view these during normal business hours at Stormwater Services on the third floor of City Hall. Digital maps are available online through FEMA, the NC Floodplain Mapping Information System, and Durham GoMaps.

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How to Get Flood Insurance

Your current insurance agent may be able to 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.

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Hazard Mitigation Planning

The City and Durham County participate in planning to mitigate the effects of potential disasters.  Floodplains represent one of the potential risks covered by these planning efforts.  The link below represents current and proposed hazard mitigation planning.

Eno-Haw Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan  [Back to Top]