Taranaki farmers are being warned dirty dairy practices will not be tolerated after the Environment Court handed down its heftiest ever fines for an effluent-related spill in the region.
Three companies have been fined a total $204,000 for discharges of effluent and silage leachate into a tributary of the Mangatete Stream at Ōkato over three months last year.
The fines to farm owner Blue Rata Investments - $86,250, and its manager Far Venture - $75,000, eclipsed the highest previous fine for an effluent-related discharge of $62,000 imposed in 2009.
The coastal Taranaki farm's sharemilker Khloby Dairy was also fined $42,750.
Taranaki Regional Council Director-Resource Management, Fred McLay, said the discharges arose from carelessness in the way the effluent treatment system and the silage pit were managed and operated.
Mr McLay said the discharge resulted in green discolouration of the stream for up to 100 metres and other downstream effects including the growth of sewage fungus up to 140m from the discharge.
Maize silage leachate in particular was highly toxic to stream life and this discharge would have overwhelmed the stream's natural processes and functions.
Fines should serve as warning to to anyone invested in dairy farms, as well as their operators and managers, Mr McLay said.
"The case highlights the fact that all parties involved in a dairy farm - including any passive investors not normally involved in day-to-day operations - have a duty of care to ensure environmental and legal obligations are met.
"You can't just say it's up to the manager or operator or staff. You need to know when things are going wrong, and you need to be proactive and check compliance and ensure any faults are addressed with fit-for-purpose equipment."
Mr McLay said all dairy farm investors, managers and operators needed to:
- Be aware of the conditions on their resource consents
- Be proactive and make regular checks to ensure resource consent and regional plan requirements are being met. It's not good enough to rely on the Council compliance inspection to identify any compliance issues
- Ensure that any improvements to waste treatment systems are robust, effective and will work
- Ensure that waste holding ponds are properly managed so they don't overflow