Effluent discharge still major concern
The unlawful discharging of dairy cow effluent into waterways or on to land has taken its toll on the environment, on farmers and on regional councils.
Even Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills admits new figures make for bad reading. But he said the worst is behind us. The number of prosecutions and abatement and infringement notices issued has at least dropped, and Mr Wills vows the industry will lift its game.
‘‘My sincere hope is that if you look at these numbers in another two to three years they will be significantly down,’’ he said.
‘‘We absolutely acknowledge the effect dairying is having on the environment and there are some areas that have not been managed as well as they could have. We need to frontfoot this issue and we need to lift our game.’’
Figures obtained from the country’s 17 regional councils and unitary authorities reveal that since July 1, 2008, there have been 151 prosecutions involving more than 300 charges against 198 companies or individuals for unlawful dairy effluent discharges affecting land or water.
Environment Court-imposed fines collected from offending parties totalled at least $3,260,825.
A further 13 individuals have received community work sentences totalling 1650 hours.
Two received sentences of community detention of three and six months.
For lesser offences involving dairy effluent discharges, councils have issued 1698 abatement notices and 1564 infringement notices.
Prosecutions are taken only in the most serious cases after councils have weighed various factors, including the actual and potential effects of the discharge, whether it was deliberate, the attitude of the offender, profits made from the offending and the efforts made to clean up or remedy after the discharge. The highest fine of $120,000 was given to Potae and van der Poel Ltd on eight charges of discharging effluent to land and water on three separate farms in 2010.
The company was prosecuted by West Coast Regional Council.
The number of convictions fell from 51 in 2008-09 to 18 in the year to date.
Abatement and infringement notices have also decreased from 537 to 329 and 500 to 330 respectively. Mr Wills put the high offending rate down to councils taking a more vigilant approach in recent years and the ‘‘explosion in dairy farming’’ that has seen the number of dairy cows balloon from 3.4 million to 6.1 million over the past 20 years.
Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said water quality in lowland areas continued to decline.
The agriculture sector should be dealing with its own poor performers rather than leaving it to ratepayer-funded regional councils, Mr Johnson said.