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Ponding effluent proves costly for Hinds company

July 15, 2013

Ponding effluent proves costly for Hinds company

A farm company has been fined $25,000 after pleading guilty to breaching the Resource Management Act following problems with a travelling irrigator which resulted in severe effluent ponding on its Hinds dairy farm.

In convicting and fining Drumblade Farm Ltd and awarding costs of $2990.80, Judge PR Kellar described the offence as “comparatively serious offending.”

He noted that when an Environment Canterbury Compliance Officer made a routine monitoring visit to the property on April 17, 2012 he was informed that there had been an issue that morning with the travelling irrigator where a nozzle had come off. Inspection revealed severe liquid and solid effluent ponding on the land surface.

A follow-up inspection a fortnight later revealed further severe ponding from the travelling irrigator, with depths up to 80mm, again the compliance officer was told this was because of a hose disconnect and the resulting siphoning action caused by the equipment malfunction. During a further follow-up site visit on May 9, no ponding was observed where the travelling irrigator was operating.

Judge Kellar said the discharge of effluent on each occasion was not expressly allowed by the resource consent because the discharge of effluent in that period did not comply with the consent conditions. The defendant company had been content to leave responsibility for effluent management to the sharemilker, High Pines Ltd, through a contractual arrangement they had put in place.

“If consent holders leave a travelling irrigator unmonitored while it is discharging and there is a failure, they will be responsible for the unlawful discharge. Farm owners and consent holders have obligations they must understand and fulfil,” said Kim Drummond, Environment Canterbury Resource Management Director.

“The environmental effect, though not acute in this case, has cumulative and adverse effects on soils and groundwater.

“Farm owners and consent holders must ensure they have in place supervised and properly managed processes for responsibly dealing with dairy effluent disposal.

“It is not sufficient to rely on compliance obligations being met solely through contractual means. Despite any agreement that may apportion liability between owner or consent holder and sharemilker, it is not possible to contract out of responsibilities under the RMA, including Consent conditions.”

Judge Kellar said the system operated by Drumblade Farm Ltd at its Hinds dairy farm was similar to that used by 96 percent of dairy farms in the Canterbury region – using irrigation to dispose of dairy effluent to land. He noted that the company had since taken steps to avoid a repeat of the problem including construction of a new pond, and having a GPS system fitted to the irrigator that sends an text message to the sharemilker/farm manager if it stops or if there is a fault.

In determining the appropriate penalty for Drumblade Farm Ltd, Judge Kellar said the farm had had a number of non-compliance issues in 2007 and 2008 where effluent ponding was substantiated.

The 2012 discharges occurred in April while the travelling irrigator was unsupervised but there was no GPS or failsafe device to ensure the irrigator would switch off in circumstances that led to the ponding.

Sentencing took place in the Christchurch District Court on 28 March, 2013


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