Helicopter monitoring has shown dairy farm compliance with regional effluent management rules is improving significantly so far this season, new figures from Environment Waikato show.
Effluent management practices that contravene the rules can lead to excessive levels of nutrients and bacteria getting into waterways, posing a threat to human and animal health, as well as the general health of waterways.
Last season 25 per cent of farms monitored under permitted activity rules – whether from the air or by ground-based inspections – were significantly non-compliant. Overall, 27 per cent of farms monitored under either permitted activity rules or EW’s consented sites regime were significantly non-compliant, as previously reported to the council’s regulatory committee.
However, 2010-11 season-to-date figures for aerial monitoring results (as at early March) show significant non-compliance with permitted activity rules was at 11 per cent compared to the 25 per cent figure from air and ground inspections for last season’s full year score. The data is from four of five flights carried out so far this season (data from the fifth flight over the Matamata area last week is still being analysed).
Significant non-compliance is generally described as a discharge of effluent that has either entered water, or is at high risk of entering water, such as unauthorised direct discharges of effluent to drains and streams, and excessive application of effluent on to pasture near waterways, or leading to groundwater pollution.
The season-to-date statistics include the results of monitoring that occurred during the early season’s wet spell in the region, which generated conditions that can make it harder to comply. (EW later suspended monitoring as the wet weather progressed, in recognition of the more difficult compliance conditions, and then resumed flights when conditions improved. It is likely that significant non-compliance would have been even lower if conditions in the early part of the season had not been so wet.)
“This data indicates a range of initiatives taken by EW and the dairy sector are beginning to have a positive impact on reducing significant non-compliance in our region,” said resource use group manager Chris McLay.
“The challenge now is to build on this progress and lift compliance levels even further. EW staff are working closely with DairyNZ and Fonterra to this end.”
The measures introduced since the 2009-10 figures were released include:
This season, EW increased its helicopter monitoring programme from about 600 to 1000 farms or 25 per cent of dairy farms in the region.
So far five flights checking about 135 farms each have been carried out around Hamilton, Matamata, Morrinsville, Otorohanga and Pokeno. As mentioned earlier, flights were suspended during the extremely wet weather experienced last spring as EW recognised the weather had overwhelmed even the most well designed and managed systems. However, they resumed when the weather had settled with flights over Otorohanga in November, Morrinsville in January and Matamata last week.
“We will be closely analysing the data from the Matamata flight and the remaining flight we plan this season to see what impact this has on the overall trends we’re seeing,” said Mr McLay.
“We take our responsibilities under the Clean Streams Accord very seriously and we will continue to work closely with Fonterra and DairyNZ to make improvements in the Waikato’s performance.
"We hope the improved figures so far this season are a sign that we have turned a corner. We congratulate farmers who have lifted their game to meet their environmental responsibilities.
"But EW will also continue to focus attention on farmers putting the environment at risk by flouting the rules.”