Consistent rules around effluent wanted

Most farmers in New Zealand cherish our clean, green, unpolluted rivers and waterways. While there are some farmers who purposely flout the rules, most don’t want weaker environmental safeguards when it comes to keeping untreated dairy effluent out of natural waterways.

Under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), it is an offence to discharge any contaminant into water. Any individual who commits an offence in respect of discharging is liable to a fine of up to $30,000.00 or imprisonment for up to two years. In the case of any other entity, like a company, the maximum fine is $600,000.00.

In many cases Farmers don’t comply with the RMA due to reasons outside of their control, for instance flooding or expense. In many cases, Councils would achieve better compliance and farmers would understand the issues more if the topic of dairy effluent was approached in an educational, collaborative way.  Some Regional Councils do provide education to Farmers however this is not always the case. Starting from a solid educational base and only resorting to fines and prosecution as a last resort would go a long way to improve relationships between Regional Councils and Farmers.

In 2014 the Hamilton City Council avoided prosecution when 800 cubic metres of untreated wastewater spilled into the Waikato River at its Pukete Wastewater Treatment Plant.  The spill was due to heavy rainfall causing 140,000 cubic metres of water to flow into the treatment plant (the average flow is about 40,000 cubic metres.) The spill was considered “not foreseeable” and “adequately mitigated”.

Many farmers felt that the lack of accountability in this instance introduced a double standard when it came to pollution of waterways, especially as farmers invest time and money to upgrade effluent systems to ensure spills do not happen. Farmers have good standing to ask why local government can’t do the same, or face the same penalties as Farmers.

Farmers can also be frustrated with changes in Regional Council policy.  For instance, a Regional Council is able to change its dairy effluent policy, when resource consents are renewed, from the use of effluent ponds to having the effluent spread back to the pastures. This change can happen in spite of the farmers having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading their effluent systems to comply with current resource consents. With the milk price as low as it is, farmers simply cannot afford to throw money at effluent systems as changing Regional Council policy dictates.

The dairy industry has changed significantly in recent years. Effluent is now seen as a part of managing the environmental impact of a farm. Councils are able to fuel this change in attitude with an educational, collaborative approach.

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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