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Southbridge farmer fined for illegal irrigation


Southbridge farmer fined for illegal irrigation and power bills to be used as evidence in future prosecutions

A Southbridge, Central Canterbury farmer, David George Moorhead, was fined $10,500 after pleading guilty to taking water without resource consent in February this year. Mr Moorhead farms a mixed cropping and pasture unit in the highly allocated Rakaia-Selwyn groundwater zone, already estimated as “red” or 100 per cent or more allocated by Environment Canterbury.

The fine was imposed last week in the Christchurch District Court by Environment Court Judge Jonathan Jackson. Ninety per cent of the fine goes to the regional council.

Mr Moorhead applied for consent to pump from the bore on his land in 2004 but this has not been decided at this stage and was one of many applications heard in a group before hearing commissioners earlier this year.

In the course of the case, ECan prosecuting lawyer Marie Dysart noted that the council is able to access power companies’ records to find out how much pumping has been done from a well or bore over a long period of time. At present ECan prosecutes for the day or days on which its officers discover illegal pumping occurring or can easily verify it. Neighbours were often reluctant to provide information to the court so the statements of staff, who were witnesses to the illegal activity, were the most reliable and efficient method of gaining evidence, Ms Dysart said.

Judge Jackson said the new approach, using power company records, put would-be irrigators on notice that they could now be prosecuted for as long as any illegal water pumping had occurred, not just the day they were caught.

In the Moorhead case, he adopted $20,000 as the starting point for a fine although he noted that arguably it should be higher as “the deterrent effect doesn’t seem to be working.” However, Mr Moorhead’s early guilty plea and clean record meant the fine was reduced to $10,500 plus $583 to cover the council’s investigation costs.

ECan regulatory hearing committee chair Cr Angus McKay said the ability to access power company records meant that any farmers caught illegally irrigating this season could face substantially higher penalties if they were prosecuted for illegally irrigating over the course of a season.


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