Fonterra seeks to dump for 22 years

18:03, Oct 28 2010

Fonterra is applying for a 22-year extension to dump waste into the polluted Mangatainoka River, leading critics of the plan to question the dairy giant's commitment to cleaning up waterways.

The co-operative has applied to Horizons Regional Council for consents to discharge milk powder condensates directly into the river, which is a tributary of the contaminated Manawatu.

In August, Fonterra signed the Manawatu River Accord, an agreement to work with other groups and the community to clean up the river.

Fish & Game's Wellington regional environmental officer, Corina Jordan, questioned Fonterra's commitment to the accord.

"They were happy to sign and look like they were doing things that were politically correct, but not making any changes on the ground."

Horizons senior consents planner Phillip Hindrup said the council had raised concerns with Fonterra about the "potential water quality impacts" of its application.

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The council asked Fonterra to look for alternatives, and has now given it till February to do that.

In a written statement, Fonterra's general manager of sustainable production, John Hutchings, said the company was committed to the accord goals.

"We're constantly implementing new and innovative ways to minimise our environmental impact, and sustainability is a core driver for our business."

The Resource Management Act was there to assess and manage environmental effects and the consent application relating to the Pahiatua Dairy Factory was subject to that process. Mr Hutchings said that would provide for public submissions and open hearings on the application.

At present Fonterra discharges into a stream that flows into the Mangatainoka. It is now seeking to discharge 2250 cubic metres of condensate directly into the river for a further 22 years. Its resource consent to dump into the stream expired in March last year.

Ross Gillespie's parents built his house on the Mangatainoka 55 years ago, and the property is the first one below the current outfall pipe.

"The family always swam there. I was Huckleberry Finn in that river."

The change in water quality was obvious, as sediment built up in the river and algal blooms formed, and now the river had started to stink in the summer. "It's been destroyed."

Conservation Department director-general Al Morrison has opposed Fonterra's application in a written submission, saying it could result in harm to the river, in particular to indigenous fish, fish passage and their habitats.

Proposed monitoring of the discharge would be inadequate to ensure the negative effects were properly managed, he said.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said Fonterra was essentially asking for a 22-year extension to do what it was already doing, instead of looking at ways to improve water quality.

The river was already heavily polluted and highly degraded, but that was not an excuse for any industry to keep polluting it further.

"Part of the Manawatu Accord was that everyone would try to achieve certain values and a vision for the river. That can only happen if we improve the current situation."

Dr Norman urged the company to consider treating the waste so some could be used to irrigate land. "It would also show a bit of leadership to the industry and to the farmers.

"If things carry on like this, nothing will change. The Manawatu and the Land and Water Forum will come to nothing."

Water and Environmental Care Association secretary Christina Paton said discharging the condensates into the river could result in fish deaths. "The river is in a bad way now, don't put any more into it."

The Dominion Post