Environmental law has become very complicated over the past forty years, perhaps in no area more so than the control of stormwater. To anyone but an environmental professional, this must sound like nonsense. The word “stormwater” basically means rain, and what could be complicated about an entirely natural process like rain and what happens to it under the influence of gravity? The answers to this question tell us a lot about important tensions in environmental law generally: what level of government has what degree of control? How tailored should the regulations be to local conditions? How much responsibility is left to us as individuals, without governmental requirements or input–“the market” as it’s now often put? Who are the private actors that contribute to stormwater problems? In North Carolina’s attempts to minimize problems from rainwater runoff, viewed over time, we find divergent answers to all these questions. The net result of over two hundred years of attempts to handle rainwater—whether called drainage, diffused surface water, urban and agricultural runoff, erosion and sediment control, or stormwater regulation—is a chaotic bricolage of laws that defy most attempts at a comprehensive overview. In this entry, we will start in the midstream of this messy “system” and look at the responses to the state’s coastal stormwater problems in the 1970s and ‘80s.
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