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Protecting the Watershed

As part of the River Reclassification process for the Roanoke River that allows for the construction of the Martin County Regional Water and Sewer Authority (MCRWASA) water treatment plant, jurisdictions within the reclassified section of the river were required by state statue NCGS 143-214.5 (Water Supply Watershed Protection Act) to establish a watershed protection ordinance for that particular section of the Roanoke River. Martin County, the Town of Williamston and Bertie County were required to adopt such ordinances.


Watershed protection regulations protect designated drinking water supply reservoirs and surface waters from activities that could degrade water quality. The WS-IV designation does NOT prohibit development in these areas; rather, it regulates new development.


Under the various Watershed Protection Ordinances of the three jurisdictions, various staff members are responsible for the enforcement:

  • Martin County -- Chief Code Enforcement Officer (or his/her designee)
  • Town of Williamston -- Town Planner
  • Bertie County -- County Planner
Although there are many similarities, the Watershed Protection Ordinances in Martin County, the Town of Williamston and Bertie County are all different, so contact those jurisdictions for more information about their particular ordinances.

"Critical Area" vs. "Protected Area"

A watershed "critical area" is the land adjacent to a water supply intake where risk associated with pollution is greater than from remaining portions of the watershed. Critical area is defined as land within one-half mile upstream and draining to the river intake. Critical areas are more restrictive than areas outside this area.

"Protected areas" are only located within WS-IV watersheds. A protected area is defined as land within ten miles upstream and draining to a river intake.


The Environmental Management Commission and the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDEAR) have administered a Water Supply Protection Program since 1986. Initially, the program was administered voluntarily by counties and municipalities pursuing protective measures for their water supply watersheds. In time, it became apparent that minimum statewide water supply protection measures were necessary, especially where multiple local governments had land use jurisdiction within a single water supply watershed.

In 1989, the North Carolina General Assembly ratified the Water Supply Watershed Protection Act (the Act), codified as General Statutes 143-214.5 and 143-214.6. The Act mandated the Environmental Management Commission to adopt minimum statewide water supply protection standards.

The Environmental Management Commission reclassified all of the surface water supplies on May 14, 1992 and the classifications became effective in August of 1992.

The Water Supply Watershed Protection Rules adopted in 1992 required that all local governments having land use jurisdiction within water supply watersheds adopt and implement water supply watershed protection ordinances, maps, and a management plan.

The Division of Water Quality works closely with local governments to assist in the implementation of the required local programs.

Education about Watershed Protection:

As construction of the MCRWASA water treatment plant develops (completion scheduled for July 2015), the MCRWASA plans to work with its community partners to increase awareness about the watershed, the need to protect it and ways to safeguard it.

Maps of the Watershed

Maps of the Watershed Protection Areas for the Overall Area, as well as maps specific to the jurisdictions of Martin County, Bertie County and the Town of Williamston

For more information about the state of NC's efforts and prorams concerning watershed protection visit Water Supply Watershed Protection Program.