Northland's chief environmental watchdog has warned dairy farmers to sort out effluent discharge flows or face hefty fines after a sharp increase in significant non compliance this year and record fines this week.
The warning by the Northland Regional Council follows a fine of $225,000 imposed by the Environment Court on two companies that own farms in Kaipara for discharging dairy farm effluent on to land and contravening abatement notices.
Beejay Stud was fined $135,000 on five charges relating to dairy farm effluent and silage discharges on to land that may have entered an unnamed tributary that flowed into the Manganui River in September last year.
Another charge related to contravention of an abatement notice the council issued to Beejay Stud in April 2009. The company owns a dairy farm on Pukehuia Rd, south-east of Dargaville. The council had issued 17 infringement and seven abatement notices to Beejay Stud in the past.
Clear Ridge Station copped a fine of $90,000 after pleading guilty to four charges relating to effluent discharge and one of contravening an abatement notice at its Mititai Rd farm south-east of Dargaville.
Council compliance monitoring manager Tess Dacre said the rate of significant non compliance of consented dairy farm effluent of 454 - or 48 per cent - of Northland dairy farms visited so far this year was 22.4 per cent. This compares with 15 per cent for the whole of last year.
Untreated dairy effluent discharges to water topped the breaches this year followed by water quality test outside consent limits.
"We really don't know why the significant non-compliance rate is worse this year, but it is very disappointing," she said.
Ms Dacre said the sentencing of Beejay Stud and Clear Ridge Station should alert farmers towards compliance with the Resource Management Act, particularly dairy farm effluent discharges.
NRC lawyer Karenza de Silva said Beejay Stud has had seven years of non compliance with an abatement notice and that extra care should have been taken because the farm was close to tributaries.
Beejay Stud's lawyer Wayne McKean said company director David Webster took steps to remedy the situation and sought advice from a Fonterra representative.
He said it was very difficult to assess the impact the discharges have had on the environment.
Judge Craig Thompson said given the number of warnings over the years, Beejay Stud management must have known the equipment and their usage were causing problems yet continued their operation.
"I can't recall any case as bad as this in terms of prolonged non compliance. It was blatant, ongoing, and serious," he said.
On Clear Ridge Station's farm of between 800 and 900 cows, Ms de Silva said the farm was awash with dairy effluent which flowed into the Manganui River.
Mr McKean said the farm was largely compliant before the council inspection and submitted Mr Webster instructed his staff to make sure the level of effluent in ponds was kept down.
Heavy rain in September last year after a prolonged drought meant any pollution to river from effluent discharge was quickly diluted, he said.
Judge Thompson said he was prepared to accept flooding contributed to the problem up to a point but said the systems put in place were clearly inadequate.
He said 12 infringement and seven abatement notices were issued to Clear Ridge Station since the farm was converted from beef to dairy in 2011.
The $225,000 fine is the largest imposed on two dairy farms in Northland.
In September 2013, the Environment Court in Whangarei fined Waipu dairy farmer Craig Roberts $137,750 plus $19,324 in costs for discharging contaminants on to land and contravening an abatement notice.