Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead says a drop in the number of Otago dairy farms being prosecuted for breaches of permitted activity rules reflects greater awareness of ORC’s enforcement regime.
ORC’s permitted activity rules in relation to water quality would determine good environmental outcomes, provided farmers adhered to a few pragmatic on-farm practices and disciplines, Cr Woodhead said.
“Given the flexible permitted activity regime we have in place there’s no room for farmers to flaunt the rules and pollute waterways. Recent inspections show the majority of them are getting on with things in a responsible manner.”
During the inspections, a total of 409 dairy farms were milking during the 2011-12 season. Of these, 386 farms (or 94.4%) of farms were compliant with the Otago Water Plan rules.
A total of 23 dairy farms (5.6%) were found to have committed breaches for discharges likely to harm the environment. Of these 23, eight farms were found to be seriously non-compliant.
These breaches resulted in ORC initiating 10 prosecutions and issuing seven infringement notices.
Mr Woodhead said the drop in prosecutions could partly be attributed to the prosecution of 46 dairy farms in 2007/08 and 2008/09 seasons, which had brought about more awareness in the dairy industry of the need to comply and the potential consequences of failing to do so.
Compliance staff had also noted that on some farms, effluent management infrastructure had been substantially upgraded. This included the installation of effluent storage systems, gatorbuddies (electronic sensor systems which activate in the event of irrigator failure, such as a hose disconnecting from a travelling irrigator) and upgrades to K-line or centre pivot irrigation systems.
“This is very pleasing to see,” Mr Woodhead said.
Of the 389 dairy farms inspected in 2010/11, 355 (91.2%) were compliant and 27 (6.9%) were classified as non-compliant with minor breaches of the permitted activity rules found.
Seven farms (1.9 percent) were classified as having the potential to have more than minor non-compliance with the permitted activity rules. Four infringement fines were issued as a result of non-compliance. Eleven prosecution actions were taken (six as a result of complaint investigation that were not part of the routine dairy inspections).
Mr Woodhead said ORC would not relax its stringent enforcement regime, even though it was heartening to see a decline in the number of breaches.
“We want dairy farmers to be complying all year round, not just on inspection day,” he said.