Serious breaches of the dairy effluent rules have been uncovered in the first round of helicopter monitoring by Environment Waikato, which recently flew the Kerepehi and Paeroa areas.
“We are quite shocked by the fact that almost 25 per cent of farms in the first flight path have been shown to breach compliance with dairy effluent rules,” says Environment Waikato’s Complaints and Enforcement Manager, Rob Dragten.
“What is even more disturbing is the fact that many farmers saw the helicopter, and yet when ground staff undertook inspections up to four days later, virtually none of the farmers had made any effort to clean up what we had seen from the air.
“It appears as though these farmers just don’t consider effluent in drains and waterways to be a problem.”
“This is very disappointing, especially given the amount of publicity about the importance of effluent management over the past year. There is no doubt that there will be prosecutions as well as infringement notices as a result of this flight.”
“We can only hope that future flights in the rest of the region will show a much greater awareness of the importance of not discharging effluent into waterways.”
Weather permitting; the helicopter will be flying again this week.
Mr Dragten said that the 25 per cent non-compliance found in the first round of flights over approximately 100 farms was similar to the non-compliance levels found last year during the inaugural flights - but this year's results showed more serious effluent problems in a number of cases, with not just one-off spills, but a long-term history of non-compliance.
"We don't believe there can be any excuses for these poor results, as the flights were undertaken in fine weather with only 25 mm of rain in the previous month - so pasture conditions were ideal for proper effluent irrigation.”
“We are appalled that some of the farms were simply allowing sumps and ponds to overflow into the nearest drain. These results suggest that during the busy spring season, effluent management is one of the lowest priorities for some farmers.”
Environment Waikato's regulatory committee chairman, Jim Howland, said that if the offending dairy farmers did not clean up their act voluntarily, then the regional council would be forced to consider tightening the rules for effluent disposal.
"There is no excuse for anyone discharging raw effluent into waterways," he said.
“Environment Waikato has worked hard over the years to stop factories and industrial operations polluting our waterways. Yet since the dramatic increase in farm productivity and cow numbers in recent years, the dairy industry is now playing an increasing part in waterway pollution.”
"Under Environment Waikato's permissive approach to regulation, farmers benefit from not having to get a consent to irrigate effluent on to land, as long as they comply with the rules or conditions.”
Councillor Howland said he was looking to work hand-in-hand with the Waikato Federated Farmers and Fonterra to drive home the education message that waterways pollution was not acceptable.
“We want farmers to be proactive, and to solve their effluent problems right now,” he said. “After all, it is a much wiser strategy for a farmer to invest capital in fixing the problems, rather than spending money on court fines.”
“So if farmers have any doubts about their effluent management, seek expert advice now. Get your system checked, and make sure you are operating legally.”
An infringement notice brings an instant fine of $750, while a prosecution can result in a fine of up to $200,000 and/or two years in prison.