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Published: 2007-01-31 00:00:00

The Environment Court’s issuing of a record fine for dairy effluent pollution reinforces Environment Waikato's recent message that effluent pollution of the environment is unacceptable.

In a recent hearing, Judge C.J Thompson fined Plateau Farms Ltd $35,000 for breaching effluent rules on the one of their Reporoa properties. This is the highest fine for a dairy effluent discharge in the Waikato region.

Plateau Farms, which is owned by Alan, Frank and Elizabeth Crafar, had pleaded guilty to the charge of discharging effluent onto land where it may enter water. However the company had disputed the degree of liability and sought to shift responsibility for the discharge onto the sharemilker and farm staff.

The court found that Plateau Farms held the majority of the responsibility for the discharges, given that they were the farm owners.

The judge described the offending as carelessness of a high order - noting that there was a responsibility on the farm owner to ensure farm effluent systems and their management complied with dairy effluent rules.

While noting the effect of the effluent on water could not be quantified, the judge found that the effects were insidious, cumulative and serious - which led to the imposition of the $35,000 fine.

Earlier this week, Environment Waikato announced that it was 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.

Charges will be laid against 23 companies and individuals connected with 15 farms in the Thames, Waihi, Huntly, Tokoroa and Morrinsville district courts within the coming weeks. The charges, which have arisen from Environment Waikato’s recent helicopter monitoring as well as complaints from other farmers and members of the public, 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.”

Environment Waikato's earlier announcement that it was prosecuting farms for dairy effluent pollution has drawn support from Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton and Environment Minister David Benson-Pope

Mr Anderton urged farmers to recognise that New Zealand's clean, green image needs to also be a reality to ensure long-term market access and the viability of our farming systems.

"While I understand some of the farmers will feel aggrieved and think they are too busy to worry about effluent discharges, they need to look to the future. Environmental management is core business for the modern farmer. More and more consumers want their goods to come from environmentally sustainable sources, which is something we are in a position to capitalise on if we follow best New Zealand farming practice," said Jim Anderton.

Mr Benson-Pope said he wrote to local authorities late last year supporting legal action where necessary, after monitoring showed a significant level of non-compliance.

"I also stated publicly that those who weren't complying could face very stiff penalties," he said.

"Regional Plans set clear rules concerning the discharge of dairy effluent. Environment Waikato's decision to prosecute sends a very strong message to farmers who think the rules don't apply to them," said Mr Benson-Pope.