A large farm property company and a farm manager have been fined a total of $11,000 in the Auckland District Court for discharging dairy shed effluent onto land in the Waikite Valley.
New Zealand Rural Properties Ltd was fined $6500 and farm manager John Holwerda $4500 in a prosecution brought by Environment Waikato for discharging the contaminant onto land in circumstances which may have resulted in it entering a tributary of the Mangatete Stream.
In sentencing the two, Judge F.W.M. McElrea said there was a long history of pollution incidents on the dairy farm which were strongly aggravating factor. While the charges related to one day only it was not an isolated incident and the defendants were already on notice.
The company had received an infringement notice in October 2000, abatement notices were issued to stop the defendants from discharging effluent to the swamp ponds from the holding ponds whenever the water was contaminated with effluent. Another infringement notice was issued in March 2001, and correspondence from the Council requiring removal of the outlet to prevent discharge to the swamp ponds.
The defendants had said there was a very high level of rain before the incident, which had something to do with the incident, but they should have had a system that could be used when there was heavy rain.
The judge accepted the offending was not deliberate but there was a very high degree of negligence to the point of recklessness in the way the matter was handled, and that called for a deterrent sentence.
"This situation that should never have arisen in the first place. It reinforces the need for farm dairy irrigation systems to be well managed and for someone to be clearly accountable for their operation and management. I hope this acts as a deterrent to others and that in future we don't have to waste everybody's time dealing with any more of these easily foreseeable and preventable discharges."
Resource Use Group Manager Harry Wilson said the case was clearly distinguishable from the recent situation at the NZMP Hautapu site.
“This dairy farm discharge was clearly forseeable and involved a long history of pollution incidents at the farm. There had been numerous communications on the matter including an infringement notice. Discharging untreated dairy shed effluent includes a significant risk that anyone unknowingly coming into contact with it will become infected by pathogens.
“The NZMP Hautapu factory discharge was quite different. It involved bacteria that usually indicates the presence of sewage, hence the initial concerns and public warnings. However there was no sewage present in this case and the chance of infectious organisms being present was low, as was the risk to people. NZMP stopped the discharge immediately they were made aware of the problem, it was very co-operative and assisted the independent investigation Environment Waikato commissioned.
"I stand by Environment Waikato's record of enforcing in an even handed manner. Of the EW prosecution cases that have been heard since the start of 2001, one case involved a multinational oil company and a local company servicing it. Others have involved a large meat processing company, a trucking operator and the driver, a logging company, and four cases involved dairy farmers,” he said.