The obvious answer is to stay on top of effluent discharge in the first place says Geoff Young, environmental monitoring consultant and Managing Director of BPO Ltd, the Waikato company which specialises in providing technical environmental monitoring information and systems both in New Zealand and overseas.
In Young’s opinion the recent Waikato Regional Council vs a Mangakino farm case was a no win situation. According to the reports, warnings had been issued and it wasn’t until charges had been laid that improvements were made. The investment made by the owners was significant but it was made too late to head off the Environment Court charges.
The Regional Council has been trying to get the message across for years that when it lays charges it’s already too late. According to Young, dairy farming cops more than its fair share of flack and this is yet another example protagonists will use to point out how bad dairy farming is, when that’s not the case at all.
Young says these farms’ problems probably went a lot deeper and could be found on many farms. “I can’t stress enough” he says “that it’s important other farmers take heed to avoid similar outcomes. We know from experience it’s less expensive for us to be the fence at the top of the cliff than the ambulance at the bottom”.
In regard to this case, Young’s rhetorical question is who received the warning. Was it the farm manager or the farm owner? How good were the communication systems working between the various parties at the farms and what part did this play in the events that occurred? The next problem is that there are many so-called experts only too willing to provide ill-fated solutions to just such problems.
However, Young will be the first person to tell you that avoiding similar situations like this is easier said than done. He stresses though, there are basic steps land-users can put in place to minimise the potential for an Environment Court prosecution, resultant fine, public ‘shame’ and all the other headaches that go with getting on the wrong side of the Waikato Regional Council.
Firstly, Dairy NZ has produced very good guidelines as to what makes up a good farm effluent system; regarding this as “minimum standard” farmers need to ask the question as to whether their farm complies?
Second, if they’re seeking advice, what qualifications does the person or organisation advising on waste water systems have? Are they an Accredited Contractor?
And finally, does the system have web-based remote monitoring to enable the farm owner or farm manager to review the effluent system at any time from anywhere?
In Young’s experience he’s found that, for the most part, there is no deliberate plot to contaminate the environment. Farmers are busy people with multiple priorities; they have every intention of checking the effluent pond or shifting the irrigator but it gets overshadowed by the sick cow, the fallen tree or the failed water supply.