Riparian Buffer Protection

On December 9, 1999, the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission adopted rules to protect 50-foot wide riparian buffers along waterways in both the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River Basins.

Purpose of Buffer

Riparian buffers protect waterways from surrounding land uses by removing pollutants and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from stormwater runoff. Temporary Riparian Protection Rules have been effective in the Neuse River basin since July 22, 1997 and in the Tar-Pamlico basin on January 1, 2000.
River surrounded by trees


  • On August 1, 2000, the rules became permanent in both basins.
  • On May 3, 2004, the Pitt County Board of Commissioners authorized staff to submit a draft Riparian Buffer Protection Ordinance (PDF) to the Division of Water Quality and pursue delegation of authority to enforce the riparian buffer rules locally.
  • On June 19, 2006, the Board of Commissioners adopted the ordinance with an effective date of January 1, 2007. The Water Quality Committee and Environmental Management Commission both voted to grant authority of the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico Buffer to Pitt County.

Rules & Requirements

All waters in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico basins require buffers for intermittent or perennial streams, lakes, ponds and estuarine waters that are shown on the most recent version of either the Pitt County Soil Survey or the topographic map prepared by the U.S. Geologic Survey, and that exist on the ground. The rules include a table of uses which lists specific activities as exempt, allowable, allowable with mitigation, or prohibited. For allowable and allowable with mitigation activities, approval must be obtained prior to any disturbance of the buffer. If it is allowable with mitigation, a greater amount of buffer must be established elsewhere to offset the impacts. Prohibited activities are not allowed, however, a variance may be applied for if compliance with the rule will result in practical difficulties or unnecessary hardships. If an activity is not listed in the table, it is prohibited.

Protection & Maintenance

These rules require protection of and maintenance up to 50 feet of the riparian area along the banks of waterways in both basins. However, these rules do not require new buffers to be established, unless the existing land use changes. Activities that existed within the buffer prior to the effective dates are exempt. Another important requirement of these rules is that diffuse flow of stormwater into the buffer must be maintained.
Buffer Zones graphic showing vegetation and zones