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WHITIANGA - Farmers in the Greater Waikato are being given more time to fence off ecologically sensitive waterways.

Environment Waikato has given them another four years to fence off rivers and streams which run through their properties.

Earlier this year the regional council sent 2000 letters to farmers in the Waikato, Coromandel and King Country telling them they had waterways which must be fenced off.

Farmers were told a subsidy of 35 per cent for the work would be cut off at the end of June.

Dry stock farmers said the rule was impractical and a big expense at a time when their returns were particularly low.

Now the council says it recognises the financial pressures farmers have been under in recent years and the deadline for financial help has been extended until the end of June 2012.

River and catchment services committee chairman Andra Neeley said all of the greater Waikato's waterways were very precious but the council would prioritise applications from upper catchment farmers wishing to fence off priority one waterways.

"The reality is that water quality in the region has been declining, so keeping stock out of rivers and streams is an essential part of reversing this trend.

"It's easier to protect clean water near the start of rivers and streams than deal with dirty water in the lower reaches of waterways."

The fencing of the margins of harbours and estuaries was particularly important, as these were areas tended to have most stock being run nearby, she said.

Since it was launched in 2002, the council's clean streams subsidy has contributed towards the fencing of 1100km of waterways in the greater Waikato.

Earlier this week Manawatu-Wanganui regional council said it would be checking effluent disposal from about 100 dairy sheds in the region to prevent discharges into streams and rivers.

With pollution increasing along with the size of dairy herds around the country, local authorities are stepping up enforcement action.

A $37,500 fine, the largest ever for a single dairy effluent discharge, was imposed in the Environment Court at Napier earlier this month on Crafar Group's Taharua Farm, 40km southeast of Taupo.