Northland's dairy farmers get some of the closest scrutiny in the country and Northland Regional Council says it is increasing enforcement action against those who breach their environmental obligations, especially "repeat" offenders.
A report by Forest & Bird this week said regional councils across New Zealand were not properly enforcing dairy effluent management rules.
It said a total of 5000 dairy farms were not inspected for dairy effluent compliance in 2016 and 2017.
Forest & Bird said 919, or 40 per cent, of the country's reported cases of serious non-compliance cases in recent years were in Northland.
NRC group manager - regulatory services Colin Dall said the council takes its obligations to monitor dairy farm compliance extremely seriously and – while already having one of the most stringent monitoring regimes in New Zealand – has already taken several steps to further strengthen its work in this regard, largely to address the sorts of concerns raised by Forest & Bird.
''Council has already signalled its intention to increase enforcement action as appropriate, especially for 'repeat' offenders, including a stronger focus on infringement notices, abatement notices and/or prosecution.''
Dall said this approach is supported by our councillors and council has recently hired a new staff member with specific and extensive skills in enforcement to work specifically in the farm dairy effluent field.
''Genuine efforts to improve the region's environmental performance across a number of areas – not just in the farm dairy effluent area – are ongoing Northland-wide and involve both the council and the community it serves.''
Dall said although on the face of it, Northland's compliance rates lag behind some of its counterparts elsewhere in New Zealand, there are reasons for this.
All Northland farms are monitored every year from mid-August through to early December when effluent loadings are highest and farm systems under most stress. In contrast other regions spread their monitoring across the dairy season; visits are not pre-notified in Northland, unlike some other regions; and all discharges to water in Northland are sampled, unlike some other regions.
The NRC monitors all aspects of the farming operation covered by the relevant resource consent or rules, including stand-off pads away from the dairy, dead stock disposal and discharges from silage storage, and Northland's high rainfall and soils also pose additional challenges for farm dairy effluent management.
''We believe our overall monitoring programme is extremely robust and identifies actual problems which enables us to work proactively with our farmers to address and improve many of the issues contained in the Forest & Bird report.''