Environment Waikato is taking action against polluters in the dairy industry, with prosecutions pending for companies and individuals connected to 15 Waikato farms for breaches of dairy effluent rules.
“We anticipate laying charges against 23 companies and individuals connected with these 15 farms in the Thames, Waihi, Huntly, Tokoroa and Morrinsville district courts within the next four weeks,” said Environment Waikato’s complaints and enforcement manager Rob Dragten.
“The charges have arisen from Environment Waikato’s recent helicopter monitoring as well as complaints from other farmers and members of the public. They relate to direct discharges of dairy effluent into waterways and significant over-application of dairy effluent onto land.
Environment Waikato's Regulatory Committee chairman, Jim Howland said Council was determined to improve the level of compliance with the rules, and was disappointed at having to take this kind of action.
“There is no excuse for anyone discharging raw effluent into waterways, and it will not be tolerated.”
Fonterra's Director Milk Supply, Barry Harris, said the company urged its farmers to ensure compliance with current regulations, and supported measures that would prevent breaches of dairy effluent rules.
“We support steps being taken to ensure that those who are letting the industry down are held responsible for their actions,” he said.
Environment Waikato has been working closely with Federated Farmers to ensure farmers understand the dairy effluent rules. Compliance with effluent rules is one of the five cornerstones of the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord, and Federated Farmers are supportive of the campaign to ensure dairy farmers meet their environmental responsibilities.
“We are committed to seeing dairy farmers treat their effluent in a sustainable way,” said John Bluett, Waikato Chairman of Dairy Farmers of New Zealand.
“Each dairy farmer needs to make sure their system is up to scratch, and they are operating it properly. If they are not sure, then they should get someone in to give them a second opinion.”
Cr Howland said Environment Waikato would continue to work hand-in-hand with Federated Farmers, Fonterra and Dexcel to drive home the message that waterway 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 in fixing the problems, rather than spending money on court fines.”
Court fines can be substantial, according to Environment Waikato’s Rob Dragten.
“The Environment Court is treating the issue of dairy effluent discharges seriously," he said. “A dairy farming company in Southland was recently fined $60,000 for major and repeated instances of pollution. And in the Waikato, the highest fine recorded to date was $25,000.”
Mr Dragten said Environment Waikato had a range of enforcement options, and in addition to the farms currently facing prosecution, this season had issued 31 formal warnings, 7 abatement notices, and 28 infringement notices for more minor offences.
These prosecutions arise from the first three months of this year's dairy season, and more prosecutions may be likely later in the season as part of an ongoing Environment Waikato compliance programme.