It looked worse than it was - that was the conclusion of the Waikato Regional Council's investigation into the "buttermilk lake" discovered on a farm at Atiamuri, in the South Waikato, last October.
As a result, formal warnings for breaches of the Resource Management Act have been issued to three parties - the owner of the Tram Rd farm, a person involved in the management of the property, and a dairy supply company.
However, the regional council has opted not to name those people or the company.
"We do have the ability to publicly name people in serious cases but in respect to lesser enforcement involved in this case we decided not to name them," council investigations manager Patrick Lynch told the Waikato Times.
"On the face of it this initially appeared to be a relatively serious environmental incident," Lynch said.
"However, now that we have looked into all of the relevant factors ... we are confident that it looked far worse than it was.
"We have established that approximately 5 million litres of buttermilk was discharged on to land at the Atiamuri property over a two-week period.
"Due to the topography where the buttermilk had been discharged, the soil type there, and some earlier earthworks that had been completed on site, we are satisfied there was no immediate loss of any contaminant to ground water or surface water.
"I think that it is fair to say that a high standard of remediation has subsequently occurred on site. All of the contaminant has been removed and lawfully disposed of.
"The discharge was a very large volume and its discharge into the storage pond was unlawful; however, taking into account the lack of adverse environmental effect and the positive response by the parties involved, we have decided to issue formal warnings . . . We are also satisfied that changes to procedures at the dairy supply company concerned make a recurrence of this event extremely unlikely."
The regional council was alerted to the buttermilk lake last October by the Times.
Trucks were seen taking the buttermilk from Fonterra plants, including Te Rapa and Edgecumbe, to the Tram Rd farm for several weeks as Fonterra grappled with record milk production.
The standard penalties for breaching the Resource Management Act are, for an individual, a $300,000 fine or two years in prison; and for a corporate, a $600,000 fine.
- Waikato Times