Authority defends stance on effluent

18:51, Nov 07 2012

Environment Southland has hit back at comments made by farmers about the way effluent discharge is handled by the authority.

The response follows a story in The Southland Times yesterday about a group of Southland farmers who met deputy prime minister and Clutha-Southland MP Bill English two weeks ago to discuss their concerns about the way that regional councils handled effluent discharge into waterways.

Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said that last financial year, the authority laid eight farming-related prosecutions, two of which were for discharges of dairy effluent.

Among other matters were unlawful discharge from a wintering pad, allowing stock unrestricted access to a waterway and unlawfully taking gravel from a riverbed, he said.

Generally, most farmers responded quickly and responsibly to incidents, Mr Phillip said. Minor non-compliance issues rarely resulted in further action and first-time offences resulted in a prosecution only if they were serious, which was also rare, he said.

Environment Southland was working with farmers on a consultative basis about effluent discharge, he said.

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"The dairy industry has praised the collaborative approach that Environment Southland used in 2009-10 to develop a plan, provisions and consent conditions for farm dairy effluent."

The authority had since arranged various workshops with farmers and other industry professionals, he said. Aerial inspections and photographs of properties were taken, but these were usually publicised in advance.

When asked if he thought farmers meeting with Mr English signalled there were problems with the way the authority handled effluent compliance, Mr Phillips said they were taking measures to help rectify the concerns of farmers.

"I have already announced an independent legal audit of compliance processes, because the community has to have confidence that compliance action is based on sound processes that have been carried out with integrity."

Concern about water quality was not restricted to Southland, he said. Environment Southland had set goals to improve water quality, but they relied on the support of industry, local authorities and farmers.

A spokesman for Mr English said repeat offenders should be dealt with, but farmers who were making a big investment to improve effluent control and standards should be given credit for their good practice, not punished.

Mr English agreed with the farmers' grievance that other polluters were getting consents for effluent discharge from the regional council, when farmers were being forced to make substantial investment to avoid all discharges, the spokesman said. He would continue to discuss the issues with farmers and the regional council, despite having no formal role, the spokesman said.

The Southland Times