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Opotiki farm fined for repeat discharge offence

Friday, 17 May 2013 10:00 a.m.

An Opotiki dairy farm company and its director have been fined $37,000 for discharging effluent from a pond where it entered a roadside drain.

The farm’s director has also been ordered to complete a dairy farm effluent management course within 12 months.

Riverlock Farms of Waioeka Road, Opotiki and farm manager Geoffrey Thomas Brown were sentenced in Rotorua District Court this week. The offences relate to effluent overflowing from an underpass effluent pond at the farm in July 2012.

The farm has been operating for more than 20 years, milking about 1450 cows. In December last year Riverlock Farms, Geoffrey Brown and his brother Ian were fined a total of $74,000 plus costs for discharging contaminated underpass liquid to waterways in October 2011. They were also convicted and discharged on a charge of breaching an enforcement order imposed as part of a 2010 offence.

While preparing evidence for last year’s defended hearing, a Council officer found the farm’s underpass pond overflowing into the roadside drain. Samples showed high bacterial (faecal coliform) readings.

High levels indicate the water is unsafe for most uses. The discharge entered one of the drains which flows to the Waioeka River and out to sea. The river is a habitat for indigenous fish species and blue duck, a whitebait spawning site and a regionally significant trout habitat and fishery.

The Court heard that there had been two previous prosecutions for effluent overflows at the farm.

The most recent offence occurred because of the defendant’s failure to adequately monitor the underpass pond and ensure levels were maintained to avoid overflow.

Judge Jeff Smith said the penalty would have been higher had the defendants not made significant improvements to the farm’s effluent system, including installing three new storage ponds.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council Operations, Monitoring and Regulation Committee Chairman Malcolm Whitaker said the defendants should have been aware of the legal requirement to ensure dairy effluent did not get into waterways.

“This conviction and penalty is a clear message that discharges of this nature are not acceptable. As a Regional Council we are very concerned that some dairy farmers running large herds are not paying enough attention to effluent management, or recognising the harm they can do to the environment, he said.

“The defendants in this case were well aware of their previous compliance issues and they were well informed of the need for particular care in monitoring and managing their effluent pond levels. They failed to improve their vigilance to avoid the same problems recurring. 

“Farmers have many sources of advice and information on effluent management, either through the Regional Council or from farming organisations, such as Fonterra and DairyNZ, so there is no excuse for continuing to have discharges of this nature happening in our region,” he said.

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