Water quality along Beaufort County's beaches earned high marks in an annual report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, and we should all be glad.
An economy that thrives on tourists headed to our beaches benefits from a clean bill of health. Bad publicity, as we've found in years past, is hard to overcome.
Hilton Head Island officials started water testing after the town got a "beach bum" rap in 1997. They decided the best way to prevent it from happening again was regular testing, regularly reported. The state took over the job in 2006.
Hilton Head's good results reflect the community's attention to keeping potentially polluting stormwater runoff away from its shores.
Runoff from streets, roofs, parking lots and other areas can carry bacteria to the ocean, raising the possibility of illness for swimmers.
Stormwater is at the center of Horry County's less stellar ranking.
All of South Carolina's problem beaches are in Horry County, home to Myrtle Beach. Beaches there had the highest average rate of elevated levels in South Carolina, at 11 percent, according to the NRDC report.
The worst was at Springmaid Pier, with unhealthy limits in 18 percent of 2011 water samples, The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News reports. Briarcliffe Acres and Myrtle Beach both reported 13 percent of tests exceeded healthy levels.
South Carolina ranked 17th of the 30 states in the report, with 8 percent of all water samples last year exceeding healthy standards, according to the NRDC report.
Those numbers are the same as in 2010, but down from 2009 when 20 percent of samples exceeded healthy limits.
In Beaufort County, Hilton Head Island had only 1 percent of 151 samples exceeding state pollution standards last year, the report states. The previous year, 2 percent of samples exceeded standards.
Fripp, Harbor and Hunting islands had no samples last year exceeding state standards. Hunting and Fripp islands had 50 samples taken, and Harbor Island had 30 samples.
In 2010, 3 percent of samples at Harbor Island exceeded standards; 2 percent at Hunting Island; and none at Fripp.
No local beaches were closed or had advisories issued last year because of pollution.
The (Columbia) State newspaper points out that the NRDC findings don't necessarily mean the surf in South Carolina is more polluted than in most other places. The state tests more frequently than some states. South Carolina may have worked harder at finding problems and warning the public.
The situation in the Grand Strand is a reminder of the old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Mark Kruea, spokesman for Myrtle Beach, said, "Managing stormwater has been the city's biggest expense over the last 20 years. We've spent more money moving rain around than we have on anything else."
Myrtle Beach, which at one time had about 150 pipes draining onto the beach, has installed deep ocean outfalls that drop stormwater 1,000 feet off shore instead of on shore. Each ocean outfall costs about $10 million, Myrtle Beach city manager Tom Leath said.
And it has made a difference.
Unfortunately, a less costly method was rebuffed by Surfside Beach residents -- requiring vegetative buffers to slow runoff and trap pollutants.
Residents were concerned about mandating what could be placed on their property and taking away yard space. The ordinance wasn't passed.
That brings to a mind another old saying: "Penny wise, pound foolish."