Damning report slams ECan's lack of action over cattle in waterways

Fish and Game says its new report shows ECan has failed to adequately protect Canterbury's streams, rivers and lakes.
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Fish and Game says its new report shows ECan has failed to adequately protect Canterbury's streams, rivers and lakes.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) never visited rivers and lakes that 114 people claimed cattle were accessing, despite some areas being the subject of multiple reports.

Fish and Game has analysed 382 complaints of stock accessing waterways, received by ECan through its pollution hotline, and believed the regional council was "failing dismally" to provide effective responses to complaints.

ECan commissioner David Caygill said the report was "useful" and deserved a "considered response".

ECan commissioner David Caygill says the report is "useful".
DEAN KOZANIC/FAIRFAX NZ

ECan commissioner David Caygill says the report is "useful".

The report showed out of the 382 complaints, which dated back to 2011, ECan took enforcement action in just 15 cases.

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If a complaint was substantiated, the most common course of action was seeking an assurance from the farmer that they would not break the rules again.

Fish and Game posted this photograph on Twitter of cattle getting "free access" to Canterbury's Lake Taylor. It turned ...
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Fish and Game posted this photograph on Twitter of cattle getting "free access" to Canterbury's Lake Taylor. It turned out the cattle were owned by businessman Hugh Fletcher and Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.

Since 2012, ECan rules prohibited intensively farmed stock, such as dairy cattle, and stock grazing on irrigated land from all natural waterways.

North Canterbury Fish and Game chairman Trevor Isitt believed ECan's approach to controlling serious or repeated breaches of stock access had been "casual and permissive and at worst negligent".

"It is clear from these findings that ratepayer-funded ECan has failed to adequately protect our streams, rivers and lakes from the negative effects of heavy stock damage."

ECan claimed stock damage in waterways was its "top compliance priority", yet there was an obvious lack of funding and staff to carry out the work, he said.

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"This makes a mockery of the claimed successes under the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, when you don't enforce the fundamental rules in your regional plans."

The report, analysing ECan's enforcement of waterway protection rules, found for 114 of the 382 complaints, no site visit ever happened.

One example used was a complaint regarding cattle in the springs of the salmon-spawning Cora Lynn Stream, near the Waimakariri River.

The complaint was made on December 15, 2015, but no site visit had happened by March.

"Note an earlier complaint regarding the exact same location had been substantiated in February 2013 and no action had been taken."

Another example came in August 2015 where a complaint was made regarding stock damage to a trout spawning stream in the Mackenzie.

"No Incident Response Officer (IRO) visited the site following this complaint, yet there had been two previous complaints made by other parties regarding the same location," the report found.

ECan gave several reasons why sites were not visited. On 21 occasions there was no time due to other priorities, while on 16 occasions the farmer assured officers there was no breach.

Of 129 complaints substantiated following a site visit, just six resulted in infringement notices and seven in abatement notices.

"No prosecutions or enforcement orders have been used in response to stock access breaches," the report found.

The most common way of dealing with a substantiated breach was to get an assurance from the farmer they would stop breaking the rules, a remedy used in 57 per cent of the substantiated complaints.

A highly public complaint, regarding cattle owned by businessman Hugh Fletcher and Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, was dealt with through an abatement notice.

The report found much more serious breaches were dealt with using a warning, with no abatement notice or infringement. 

"For example in an Ashburton waterway in 2014 an IRO observed 'major pugging, colour change, and abundant faeces in the waterway'. No abatement notice or infringement was issued."

Of 199 complaints where a site visit was recorded, ECan made a visit within the first week 63 per cent of the time.

In some cases a site visit was made eight weeks after the complaint.

Caygill said ECan was presented with the report on Thursday and would meet with Fish and Game again in three weeks to discuss it further.

"Where we agree with Fish and Game is that we take our rules seriously – we do not go through the time-consuming process of establishing rules without intending them to be complied with.  

"In that sense there is no disagreement between us," he said.

 - Stuff

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