Record fine for Ellesmere polluter

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 12:28 20/07/2012
Lake Ellesmere discharge
Environment Canterbury

DELIBERATE SPILL: More than 44,000 litres of effluent was poured into a waterway which feeds Lake Ellesmere.

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A farm has been fined a record $90,000 after illegally discharging dairy effluent on to land in Springston.

The company, White Gold Ltd, had resource consent permitting discharge of dairy effluent on to the land, but members of the public reported effluent flowing into drains that ultimately went into Lake Ellesmere.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) found about 45,000 litres of diluted dairy effluent was discharged during a three-day period in 2010, which resulted in extreme saturation of the land and a nearly 29,000-square-metre effluent pond, including up to 10 centimetres of effluent solids on the ground.

The fine is on top of the $20,000 fine and 260 hours' community service the farm manager received for the same offences late last year.

The farm manager, Blair John Lloyd, was fined when he appeared in the Christchurch District Court in November last year.

Lloyd disconnected a pipe from a blocked irrigator and placed it under nearby trees, allowing diluted effluent to spill into nearby drains that flowed into the L11 River, which runs into Lake Ellesmere.

At the time, Judge Paul Kellar said Lloyd's "very deliberate" offending had allowed a "significant and prolonged" discharge to go into the waterways.

The court had received a report indicating the discharge would have compromised the water quality of Lake Ellesmere and the strategies put in place to "improve and rehabilitate" the natural character of the lake.

ECan had earlier filed non-compliance reports, but there had been no previous prosecutions against the company.

Resource Management Act monitoring and compliance regional manager Brett Aldridge said in this case the company was not aware of or responsible for the farm manager's actions, but the company did not have processes in place to allow it to identify things that had gone wrong and steps to rectify the situation.

''It is absolutely critical that consent-holders have in place appropriate systems and procedures to quickly identify where there is equipment failure or poor employee performance," he said.

Environment Court Judge Colin Doherty found the effluent entered groundwater, and farm drains were affected.

In setting the fine, the judge took into account the need for deterrence for others, the company's lack of oversight of the farm manager and how there was no system in place to alert the company to the offending.

Aldridge said the large penalty would act as a deterrent.

"Our goal is to work alongside consent-holders to enable them to do business while also meeting their environmental obligations," he said. 

"However, this case shows we won't hesitate to act decisively if those obligations aren't being met and serious environmental degradation is happening as a result.''

This case was the first time ECan provided a cultural impact statement on the effects of illegal discharge on the cultural, physical and spiritual values of Ngai Tahu.

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Last August, Ngai Tahu and ECan signed Whakaora Te Waihora, a long-term commitment and agreement to restore and rejuvenate the ecosystem health of Lake Ellesmere.

Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu general manager of tribal interests David Perenara-O'Connell said the iwi supported the penalty.

"Illegally discharged dairy effluent is not a victimless crime," he said.

"Hundreds of workers and volunteers have been putting in thousands of hours to improve the water quality of Te Waihora.

''The lake is a taonga and holds a treasured position within our rohe - our tribal area. It is of great historical and contemporary significance to us. This behaviour is not acceptable."

- The Press

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