Stormwater MS-4

Greetings fellow citizens of Carter County! Here is an introduction to help you better understand what we are doing here in the Planning and Zoning Office regarding stormwater management. Did you know the EPA created the Clean Water Act way back in 1948 to help keep our beautiful waterways pristine? This Act was then amended in the early 1970’s to meet the increase in development and industry polluting the water ways of the Nation. This federally mandated law that we follow can be viewed here.  Let us know if you have any questions! Thank you for your interest.


Figure 1: Blue Hole Falls, Stoney Creek area of Carter County in winter


A MS-4 program is part of a federally mandated plan designed to protect, preserve, and prevent pollution from entering clean waters of the state. In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) amended the original Federal Water Pollution Control Act (1948) to the Clean Water Act (CWA). The EPA designed this regulatory document to protect the integrity of the waters of the nation. This permitting process covers several types of modifications and amendments associated with the Clean Water Act. Tennessee adopted their own set of rules and regulations associated with the CWA; this was the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act of 1977. All municipalities and counties over 50,000 in population must have an MS-4 permit in place to deal directly with stormwater pollution due to development and land disturbing activities. The permit is divided into two separate phases. Carter County falls under the smaller Phase II (MS-4) permitting guidelines due to its population. This helps prevent polluted stormwater from reaching the bodies of water within the boundaries of the county. Surrounding counties and municipalities have similar guidelines in place (follow the links to other municipalities for their information if building in Carter County but under the jurisdiction of the City of Elizabethton or the City of Johnson City). Each individual MS-4 is designed to help to accommodate the different issues, developments, terrain, and stormwater events each individual county and city face.

Carter County is unique, in that there are over two hundred exceptional waters contained within its boundaries, 218 to be exact! These exceptional waters found here are some of the healthiest-ranking water bodies in the state. They are typically undisturbed and unobstructed from their source and contain biodiversity that can sometimes only be found in that specific stream or body of water. We protect many different endangered and threatened species through our permit protections. These streams, rivers, and lakes make up two especially important watersheds in the region (Watauga River and the Nolichucky Watershed). These watersheds drain into larger water systems; therefore, it is imperative that we protect these waters at their source. In a partnership with the Tennessee Division of Conservation and Environment (TDEC), stormwater pollution is regulated through various stages of protection by permitting construction sites and allowable discharges. The minimum requirements of the MS-4 program are laid out in these general stages: 1) Public information and activities; 2) Illicit discharge of pollution into waters; 3) Construction site stormwater permitting; 4) Pollution prevention/Good housekeeping; 5) Permanent stormwater solutions; and 6) Public Participation. The following will describe and try to help citizens of the county to understand these stringent requirements.


Figure 2: Watershed of Carter County (MTSU)

Public Information and Activities:

Each year the county will operate an educational seminar, partnering with local schools, elected officials, engineers, and developers. This provides an opportunity to educate the public on Stormwater matters. Brochures and other information are available to pick-up at the local planning and zoning office. A separate education seminar is held for all county employees that are directly related to Stormwater Activities.  The Highway Department, County Bus Garage, and the local landfill are all involved in this ever-evolving process. If you would like to be involved in a training session, please feel free to reach out and we will include you in the next training event. Let it be noted that if you are an Excavation and/or Building Contractor operating in the county, you must take the Tennessee Erosion Prevention and Sediment Control Level I course. This course is taught by a partnership between the University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Stormwater Association and the TN Erosion Prevention and Sediment Control. All contractors must be Level 1 certified, before a permit is issued, Carter County will check the website to see if an associate of the company has completed the course. Here is the link to help direct to the appropriate course:

Illicit Discharge of Pollution into Waters of the State:

If a violation of the stormwater ordinance has occurred, a formal complaint can be made by calling 423-542-1834 from 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM or by emailing us at Some instances of violations include, sediments being deposited in creeks or rivers after storm events, sediments on county roadways, chemical spills, and/or septic or wastewater discharges. Remember that pipes discharging into streams and rivers can be permitted for allowable discharges, but they are on an individual basis through the NPDES permitting section. Before making a complaint, check here for more information from the TDEC website, follow the link to the TDEC map viewer page:,36.331458,4326&level=16

All sites that have been permitted by TDEC will be in this map viewer if they have been applied for online. Copies of inspection reports, violations (if applicable), and pollution prevention plans can also be found on the site.


Figure 3: Outcrop on Roan Mountain, natural spring.

Construction Site Stormwater Permitting:

A general County Stormwater permit is required if any form of grading is to happen on your site. If developing an area that is an acre or larger or a lot that is part of a larger development equaling more than one acre, you will need to apply for both a county permit and a Construction General Permit (CGP) from TDEC. When these sites are over an acre of land, a site-specific Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) is required. The plan needs to be prepared by a certified engineer, landscape architect, or a Level II certified operator and follow up maintenance is the responsibility of the landowner. The county will inspect the site, both while under construction and for the life of the structures to ensure pollution does not reach the waterways. ALL SITES are to be inspected within the permit cycle (five years). Inspections are to be performed by a Level I certified inspector; these sites must be inspected twice weekly during the construction phase of development. Common mitigation practices include, silt fencing, detention/retention basins, and connection to stormwater sewers. Here is the link for the TDEC website:


Figure 4: Clean Waters meeting Polluted Waters

Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping:

The Carter County Stormwater team is dedicated to protecting waters of the state. We do this in a variety of ways. A good example of this is prevention in the maintenance areas the county operates. The county’s bus garage, landfill, and the highway department all employ good housekeeping practices to avoid spills and accidents from potentially polluting our area waterways. These sites store fuel and other hazardous materials in the appropriate manner to ensure that they are not accidentally released into the environment and have signed an agreement with the county promising in the event of a spill, the appropriate governmental agencies will be notified including Tennessee Emergency Response Agency (TEMA), Cater County Emergency Response Agency (EMA).

Pollution Prevention is an important first step in protecting the waters of the state. This is the phase we are constantly at! Whether you are actively building a house, or you’ve completed, these steps remain in place. At all times we must stay vigilant in the prevention of problems before they arise. Here are a few amazingly simple things we can all do to help. First, make sure there are no hazardous waste contaminants that can easily leach into soils or be washed into the waterways by flooding. This can be as simple as making sure that no paint/staining materials, concrete, used or new motor oils, or other hazardous household waste are not exposed to the weather, and their containers are leak proof or stored inside under shelter. If you should find containers damaged or leaking, a quick trip to our local landfill can help with these issues. Here is a link to the County Landfill website:

Another quick and simple prevention method is to spread grass seed on any bare areas that have the potential for erosion. Once the grass has established roots, the grass will help hold the soils in place. If you see erosion happening, it’s too late! The goal of prevention is to stop the problems before they start. If you have a dirt pile left over from building or have one on site during active construction, cover the pile with a tarp to prevent the soils form leaving the site. Exposed fertilizers are another big pollutant we try to prevent from reaching the waters of the state. Make sure they are stored inside or out to the weather if at all possible.

Figure 5: Upper Blue Hole Falls in Winter

Permanent Stormwater Solutions:

Permanent stormwater solutions ensure that pollution by erosion and sediments do not become a long-term problem. When developing large tracts of land, over an acre, a site plan along with a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) must be approved by the Planning and Zoning Office. This will provide a plan to help control and manage the water that is being diverted off site. They are often unseen or buried and can be designed to blend into the surrounding landscape, low impact designs are encouraged. During construction some of these structures are meant to be permanent, grass swells or ditches, retention and detention basins are an example. Maintenance of these structures must be stated clearly, and the responsible parties must maintain them for the life of the structure. Another permanent structure is stormwater sewer systems. These are a series of complicated pipes that are designed to carry stormwater in the event of flooding.These often are underground, and it is important to remember that these drains are not intended for human or yard waste, litter, or hazardous materials. These drains also discharge directly to rivers and streams untreated.

Public Participation:

Our final area under the minimum control measures is Public Participation. This is your part! Each year the county hosts several stream and river clean-ups, we invite each one of you to attend! This is a fantastic opportunity to get directly involved with the stormwater program. We generally focus on areas with extreme pollution or litter problems. The Minton Hollow area is one area ‘Hot Spot’ that we are currently working on to ensure litter or other refuse does not reach the Watauga River. Please Like and Follow our County Stormwater Facebook page to receive updates on these fun and educational opportunities!  Another opportunity for the public to participate is through our monthly Planning and Zoning Commission Meetings, the commission meeting is a subgroup of the full county commission set-up to specifically address Building and Zoning needs in the county. These meetings are typically held on the fourth Tuesday of each month. During the meeting, we discuss not only stormwater topics, but also, litter and codes enforcement, issues the county is facing about zoning regulations, and approval of subdivisions. The August Planning Commission meeting is when we review our Stormwater Annual Report that is due to TDEC by September 30th. This meeting the commission will vote to approve or disapprove the report, public involvement is encouraged! Especially if you have concerns surrounding pollution within the county. Regardless, if we see you at a clean-up, in a meeting, or if you see one of our inspectors at a job site, we are always here to assist the citizens of Carter County.

The health and wellbeing of the waters in Carter County goes far beyond our stormwater issues. For generations, the public has enjoyed our area trout streams and recreational opportunities at Watauga Lake and the surrounding pristine rivers. The waters in the region are nationally known! From the trout streams of the Holston and Watauga to the beautiful high creeks of Roan Mountain, people know that East Tennessee holds some of the cleanest waters in the Nation. With your help we can maintain that honorable distinction. Help us keep the waters of Carter County clean and as pristine as possible!

This page serves as a public service to the citizens of Carter County. Under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act, counties, and municipalities with populations over 50,000 must provide services to educate the public about stormwater. We hope this is a helpful and resourceful page, as always, please reach out to our office if you have any questions or commits, the door is always open!

Figure 6: Roan Mountain TN/NC border


Link for on ideas on green infrastructure

Overall idea of what NPDES water permitting is:

EPA Stormwater page:

EPA brochure (BasicConcept)


TDEC permit page, viewers can see what permits are active in the county, currently:  

TDEC homepage:

NPDES Stormwater permitting page (TDEC):

TDEC MS4 program page:–ms4–program.html

TDEC Interactive Permit Map:,36.331458,4326&level=16

Area Municipalities and County MS4 Programs

Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook:

Carter County Stormwater Annual Reports:

2022 MS-4 Report

Annual Report SW-2021 signed copy

Carter County Stormwater Resolution:

Stormwater Resolution No.354 Word(2)

littlewilbur - Copy
Figure 7: Little Wilber Reservoir

Stormwater Fees

Stormwater Development Construction Fee Schedule

100 aces or more- $2,500

75 to 99 acres-$2,000

50 to 74 acres-$1,500

40 to 49 acres-$1,000

30 to 39 acres-$750

20 to 29 acres-$500

10 to 19 acres-$400

5 to 9 acres-$300

3 to 4 acres-$250

1 to 2 acres-$100

Less than 1 acre-$75

(For any divided property whether infrastructure is constructed or not)

Stormwater Commercial Construction Fee Schedule

$250,000 or more-$2,500

$100,000 to $249,999-$2,000

$50,000 to $99,999-$1,500

$0 to $49,999-$1000

(For any Commercial/Industrial/Utility Type construction. Estimated construction cost sets fee)

Stormwater Residential Construction Fee Schedule

5,000 sq./ft or more-$150

3,000 sq./ft to 4,999 sq./ft-$100

2,000 sq./ft to 2,999 sq./ft-$75

1,999 sq./ft or less-$50

(For any Residential Construction)

Stormwater Grading Fee Schedule

Set Fee Per Project-$50.00

(For Ground Disturbing Type Activities)

Figure 8: View from Roan Mountain looking into Carter Co.


City of Elizabethton (2019) MS4 Program (12-12-22)

City of Johnson City (2019) Stormwater Management (12-9-22)

EPA (2022, February 15) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES),  (12-9-22)

EPA (2022, July 6) Summary of the Clean Water Act (12-9-22)

MTSU (2022, October) MTSU Stormwater Program (12-9-22)

TDEC (2021, August 24) NPDES Stormwater Permitting Program,

Tennessee Stormwater Management/TNEPSC/University of Tennessee (2022, June 4) Tennessee Stormwater Training