A helicopter monitoring program to check on compliance with dairy effluent rules in the Waikato region got underway today.
“We are using helicopter monitoring again this year, because it proved to be such a quick and effective way of undertaking an initial check on effluent compliance last year,” says Environment Waikato’s Complaints and Enforcement Manager, Rob Dragten.
“Helicopter monitoring commenced today, and will continue throughout the season at various times, and across a range of areas within the Waikato region.”
Environment Waikato's Regulatory Committee chairman, Jim Howland said the discharge of raw effluent into waterways was unacceptable behaviour, which is why the council was continuing with the helicopter monitoring approach to help eliminate breaches of the dairy effluent rules.
"Under Environment Waikato's permissive approach to regulation, farmers benefit from not having to get a consent to irrigate effluent on to land, as long as they comply with the rules or conditions,” he said.
"Responsible farmers know these conditions, and ensure their staff and systems comply. We will continue to monitor compliance with the effluent rule conditions, and will take action where non-compliance is identified.”
Mr Dragten said the results from the 2005 helicopter monitoring showed that almost a quarter of farms monitored from the air had obvious problems sufficient to require a warning or an infringement notice.
“With all the publicity which the helicopter flights have generated, we expect farmers will be much more aware of effluent management, and we are hoping for a great improvement on results this year.
”Many farmers have spent a lot of money, time and effort to treat their effluent appropriately and they are telling us that they want the rules enforced on those farmers not pulling their weight.”
Mr Dragten stressed that helicopter monitoring was only an initial step in Environment Waikato's compliance monitoring system.
"When a potential problem is identified from the air, this is followed up by ground-based staff, who undertake an individual site inspection of the premises. No enforcement action is taken solely on the basis of aerial data.”
Environment Waikato, along with Fonterra, Tatua and Dexcel, have been undertaking an education campaign about the dairy effluent rules over the past 18 months. This campaign has included the production of a plain-English poster explaining the rules, which was sent out to every Fonterra and Tatua supplier in the region last year, along with a series of effluent roadshows around the region last summer.
Barry Harris, Director Fonterra Milk Supply, said the company urged its farmers to ensure compliance with current regulations and supported measures that would further assist in educating farmers about environmental responsibilities.
Environment Waikato intends to continue providing workshops this year to assist farmers with improving their effluent management.
Environment Waikato has also been working closely with Federated Farmers to fine-tune the ground inspection procedures which follow the helicopter monitoring, and to ensure that the process is well understood by farmers.
Compliance with effluent rules is one of the five cornerstones of the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord, and Federated Farmers are supportive of the campaign to ensure dairy farmers meet their industry responsibilities.
“We don’t support reckless polluters,” says Waikato Federated Farmers’ president, Peter Buckley. “So those farmers not complying will need to lift their game – because they are giving the rest of us a bad name.”
Mr Dragten said if follow-up ground inspections identified illegal discharges to water, polluters could receive infringement notices which carry a penalty of $750. Prosecution for serious cases of breaches of the rules could result in fines of up to $200,000 and up to two years in prison.