Decision reserved in Bay of Plenty effluent dumping case
A Bay of Plenty Farm dairy farm flushed 1600 times the safe drinking level of effluent into the sea last year.
Details of the spill were revealed during what was supposed to be the sentencing hearing of Kahu Ma Farms in the Tauranga District Court on Tuesday.
The farm's owners, situated in Tirohanga in the Eastern Bay, pleaded guilty to dumping effluent into waterways in August 2016.
Their offending was the result of an unsupervised travelling irrigator which was left to run 20 metres from a waterway. It is not known how long the machine was pumping out effluent.
After fecal matter ponded on the property it ran into a drain, entered a canal and flowed out to sea.
Water testing revealed significant contamination with water approximately 1600 times over the safe drinking level for stock animals.
The maximum level for safe recreational bathing is 550cfu/100mls. The maximum allowable level of faecal coliforms present before stock drinking water becomes unsafe is 100cfu/100ml..
The faecal coliform levels in the affected drain on 15 August 2016 were 4.2 million cfu/100mL and 160,000 cfu/100ml in the canal before it reaches the sea.
Bay of Plenty Regional prosecutor Victoria Brewer argued the offending was the result of reckless behaviour and asked Judge D Kirkpatrick to start the sentencing fine at $60,000.
"The reasons for that is the irrigator was left unmanned for an extended period of time in the area which was close to waterways," she said.
Brewer said the farm had a history of complaints regarding effluent discharge including a similar incident with a travelling irrigator.
"In 2010 an infringement notice was issued when a travelling irrigator was found too close to drains," she said.
"In 2014 another council investigation revealed effluent in a drain and an abatement notice was issued."
In March 2015, Council wrote to Kahu Ma Farms advising that as a result of the 2014 inspection identifying a significant compliance issue, the property was now rated "Major non-compliance"
Kahu Ma's defence attorney Lara Burkhardt said the offending was "careless, not reckless" and pushed to have the fine reduced to a starting point of $35,000 if conviction alone would not suffice as punishment.
"This involved human error," she said.
"When the council officer arrived at the farm they took immediate remedial steps to prevent any further discharge other than what had occurred."
Burkhardt said Kahu Ma Farms has, at great cost, changed their farming practices and invested in new equipment to help ensure future breaches do not occur.
The upgrades to the farm included increasing their effluent storage as well as installing a fai-safe device on the travelling irrigator.
Burkhardt also noted this was the first time the farm owners had been in court before.
Judge Kirkpatrick said one of the challenges in the case was determining the correct precedent to follow given how different each previous case is. The spread of cases used as precedent was labelled a "lolly scramble".
Kirkpatrick was expected to give an oral sentencing on Tuesday but decided instead to reserve his decision to review the case in more detail and compare similar cases.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council said they were unable to comment further on the specific case until sentencing has been completed.