Council 'soft' on dirty dairying

New Zealand's clean and green image is being sold out on the West Coast by the "complacent" regional council's reluctance to prosecute dirty dairying, environmentalists have claimed.

The booming dairy industry was named in a report commissioned by the West Coast District Health Board in June as a factor for the region failing to have any official water sources that met drinking water standards.

In recent years, the West Coast Regional Council (WCRC) has failed to get any convictions for dairy farms in the region that breached effluent discharge rules.

On the other side of the alps, Environment Canterbury staff can set in train a prosecution but on the West Coast, the decision has to be approved by regional councillors, on the recommendation of staff.

Last year, councillors refused to accept a staff recommendation to prosecute a dairy farm.

Kumara environmental campaigner Carey Dillon noted that Ross Scarlett, the current chairman of the WCRC, is also the chairman of Westland Milk Products, the biggest dairy co-operative on the Coast.

WCRC compliance manager Michael Meehan said the council had voted to prosecute a dairy farmer this year but that "was the first in a long time that this council has undertaken". The charge is still before the courts.

He said the regional council monitored whether dairy farms were breaching the rules on effluent discharge, including chartering a helicopter to do a flyover of dairy areas.

With a large area to cover, it still relied on people like Dillon to highlight breaches. It then investigates and, if warranted, issues abatement notices or makes recommendations that the council prosecute the offenders.

"We've got a zero tolerance for effluent in waterways," Meehan said.

He said at the time the regional council voted last year to reject the staff recommendation to prosecute a dairy farmer, Scarlett was not the chairman of the regional council and had voted in favour of prosecution.

Two weeks ago, Dillon sent photographs to Meehan of an Orwell Creek dairy farm, near Ahaura in the Grey Valley, prompting the WCRC to serve an abatement notice on the farmer.

Dillon wanted the farmer prosecuted, and said there were many cases of dirty dairying in the Grey Valley upstream of the intake for Greymouth's water supply.

"I visited the (Orwell Creek) site again on the weekend and all he's done is move an electric fence around the drain," he said.

"We walked up the Grey riverbed and we were shocked. We immediately found and visited three separate sites that are extremely concerning one place had miles and miles of electric fencing in the riverbed and he's feeding them out there.

"We spotted several more we could not access in the same area. One involves the pollution of a public water supply.

"It's clear now this practice of polluting waterways and flaunting the WCRC rules for discharges to land is widespread. It's very, very concerning.

"We're only looking at a very small sample of a very big area. We don't have the resources we're just concerned citizens. Westland Milk Products has to take responsibility and the monitoring responsibility lies with the West Coast Regional Council and Westland Dairy Company.

"We're going to call on the Government to intervene and ensure there is proper monitoring and enforcement of environmental laws for our region."

Greens co-leader Russel Norman said Dillon's photographs were "shocking" and demonstrated what he called the complacency of the WCRC.

"With evidence like these photos, which show a gross violation of health, water and farming standards, not to mention animal welfare, I have to question the regional council's commitment to either the environment or the health of the residents of the West Coast.

"But sadly, these photos are nothing out of the ordinary. In single-minded pursuit of profit, some farmers increasing stock numbers beyond their ability to care for them, and so we see cattle forced to find feed anywhere vegetation will grow."

The Dominion Post