Environment Waikato says helicopter monitoring of compliance with effluent management rules is resuming again after being suspended because of an extended period of wet weather over winter.
The suspension recognised the difficulties farmers had been having complying with the rules because of the amount of rain, said compliance and education manager Rob Dragten.
A report to next week’s regulatory committee noted there had been two monitoring flights to date this dairying season – one around Pokeno in August and a second around Hamilton in September.
The continual wet weather over winter had clearly left farmers grappling with a range of issues on their farms. .
“The majority of the significant non-compliance [effluent management] issues observed were overflowing storage ponds or irrigation on to wet or saturated soils, resulting in discharges to surface water occurring,” the report said.
Ground-based follow up to look at non-compliance showed a common theme of rain having prevented paddocks from draining to the point where they could reasonably accept effluent irrigation. Some farmers reported getting nearly their entire year’s rainfall in just the few months preceding EW’s inspections.
“Many farmers were able to demonstrate they had followed best practice and emptied their ponds in late autumn but the extraordinary rainfall had led to those ponds filling to the point of overflowing by early August,” the report said
Mr Dragten said: “We expect farmers to have sufficient storage to be able to cope with the normal range of weather conditions experienced in their location. However, we recognize that even the best designed and managed system can be overwhelmed in extreme weather.”
Given these sorts of circumstances, the report said a decision was made after the second helicopter flight to halt further aerial monitoring until the weather settled enough to enable farmers to cope with the wet weather issues on their farms.
Now that there has been about six weeks of below normal rainfall, it has been decided that helicopter monitoring can resume, the report said.
Mr Dragten said the situation showed that EW recognised it had to be flexible in its approach to enforcement when circumstances warranted.
“We will continue to work closely with farmers and the agriculture sector to help minimise the impacts of farming on water quality in the region.
“The circumstances described in the report show that a number of farmers were being caught out by the bad weather even though they were doing their best to manage things properly.”