All counties are authorized to create watershed improvement programs and required to implement water-supply watershed protection programs (see Water-Supply Watershed Planning, below). Section 153A-440.1 gives counties the authority to establish and maintain a county watershed program pursuant to § 139-41 or § 139-41.1 in Article 3 of Chapter 139. Section 139-41 provides that if a majority of voters in a county approves the levying of a watershed improvement tax, the board of county commissioners will have all the powers of “soil and water conservation districts” as set forth at § 139-8(1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), and (10), located in Article 1 of Chapter 139. These powers include the ability to conduct surveys and investigations; to carry out preventative and control measures and works of improvement; to enter into agreements; to obtain rights to property and to maintain and/or sell any such property; to provide landowners with material or equipment that will help them in their conservation efforts; to undertake public works, including watershed improvements and projects; to develop comprehensive plans for conservation, utilization and disposal of water and development of water resources; to act as an agent for the United States in connection with these activities; and to require land occupiers to enter into agreements in exchange for certain benefits. § 139-8.
Even without voter approval of a watershed improvement tax, counties may exercise any of the powers set out in [Article 3, Chapter 139], that is, powers other than those of § 139-8 soil and water conservation districts. § 139-41.1. This authority includes the power to exercise eminent domain upon approval by the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission § 139-44.