$20,000 fine for dairy effluent spill

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 09:54 15/12/2013

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A company in charge of a Timaru dairy farm has been fined $20,000 for spilling effluent near a popular rowing spot on the Otipua Creek for nearly a month.

Environment Court Judge B P Dwyer's ruling was released to the public on Friday. The prosecution came after a routine inspection by Environment Canterbury officers found effluent overflowing the ponding system used on the farm, and flowing into the nearby Otipua Creek last year. Hokitika-based company R J Dairy Farms ran the 60ha, 200-cow farm.

ECan's lawyer told Judge Dwyer that the discharge would have been spilling just 20m from a popular rowing spot in the Otipua Creek for "up to a month" by the time officers inspected the property.

"The ponds were overflowing ... the volume of discharge would have been sufficient enough to have a major adverse effect on the stream that supports [the] recreational activities of the local community," Judge Dwyer said.

He said the company could have been fined up to $600,000 under the Resource Management Act. However, he felt a more equitable starting point would be $30,000, as the defendant had no prior convictions.

Judge Dwyer said the farm manager had previous experience, but had "been away" from the industry for several years.

"There is a reasonable degree of responsibility that has to be attached to the company because of insufficient training of the dairy manager," Judge Dwyer said.

"It was [the dairy manager's] responsibility to ensure the effluent system was managed in such a way to avoid any unlawful discharge. The ponds were not equipped with any alarm system at the time of offending."

Judge Dwyer said R J Dairy Farms expressed "genuine remorse" for what had occurred. It received a 10 per cent "discount" for its early guilty plea. The company's directors were unavailable for comment yesterday.

ECan resource management director Kim Drummond was pleased with the judge's findings.

"We acknowledge the efforts many land users are already making, but in this case, poor effluent management practices have led to a substantial breach. We feel it's essential to show there are serious consequences for doing that."

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- The Timaru Herald

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