County Council wisely moves to protect waters

Beaufort County Council's unanimous vote last week to extend protection of overburdened local waterways is a wise step, environmentally and economically.

The council passed on first reading an ordinance to control stormwater volume from developments that have been approved but not yet built.

It is the sensible thing to do as the county reassesses the environmental impact of the rapid growth of the 1990s and first half of this decade.

Clean waterways form the economic lifeblood of this community. The county says potential construction on 20,000 lots could be tweaked to include new methods of controlling stormwater runoff. It's an obvious way to protect the local economy and way of life.

News last week that the May River's pollution continues to increase proves it.

The town of Bluffton is investing heavily in testing water quality in the May River, expanding the number of test sites from 12 to 26. It is budgeting $480,000 of its $2.5 million capital improvements budget to May River projects and storm drainage improvements. It has created a Stormwater Management Department with an annual budget of $650,000. And those expenses will likely seem small when the town's May River Watershed Action Plan is aired this summer. Town leaders indicate it includes a list of projects that will be hard to pay for.

The old saying is true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Prevention of pollution and its expense is the goal of the new county ordinance.

The science is clear: stormwater runoff is the greatest enemy of local waterways.

Every possible measure should be taken to control the runoff. That requires new tactics looking forward, and retrofits looking back. The new runoff requirements for each lot do not necessarily require a more expensive way to build. It is a different way to build. The ordinance states no lot would be rendered unbuildable by the rules.

The marginal cost to take care of potentially polluted runoff on each lot is a fair trade for the millions it costs to correct the collective problem, if it indeed can be corrected.

The fact that Beaufort County is a collection of more than 60 islands amid ribbons of water demands that construction here be done differently.

It also demands that every government in the county be on the same page. All municipalities in the county need to adopt ordinances to match the one the county is pushing through.

The problem is obvious. Any and all solutions must be put in place today to protect tomorrow's lifestyle and economy.