$40,000 fine after river turns pink

A Waikato effluent disposal company has been fined $41,250 for an incident the regional council called ''completely unacceptable''.

Piggery effluent spread on a rural Waikato property by Farm Effluent Services Limited flowed into the Waitakaruru Stream last June and turned it pink.

The firm later pretended to clean it up after the Waikato Regional Council was notified.

The incident was ''really disappointing'', council investigations manager Patrick Lynch said.

''Those companies that are doing this as a business have just got to be getting it right... For a company to get it badly wrong and then attempt to deceive others into thinking they are cleaning up is completely unacceptable.''

The effluent was applied in wet conditions and in large volumes to the land at Scotsman Valley, approximately 18 kilometres south-east of Hamilton. This led to flow-off in several areas and turned the Waitakaruru Stream pink.

A local resident who lived around 900 metres away noticed and alerted the Waikato Regional Council, who traced the contamination and were told that a clean-up would start that evening.

The firm used a tractor on-site ''in such a way as to appear as if they were cleaning up the remaining effluent'', council said.

But no clean-up was carried out, as council staff found when they visited the following day.

They then ordered the company to stop further pollution, which it did.Farm Effluent Services Limited listed director Trevor de Malmanche was contacted twice but declined to comment. Before hanging up, he said he had been ''put through the wringer'' and it was out of his hands.

In the sentencing, Hamilton District Court Judge David Kirkpatrick said the company should have taken a more cautious approach in light of the previous wet weather and ''the extra difficulties created by the nature of the effluent''.

''There was a lack of adequate precaution in managing the irrigation work, increased by the apparent lack of experience of the staff left in charge,'' Kirkpatrick said.

The attempt to deceive council about the clean-up was a deliberate act and tended towards a disregard for harm caused and what should have been done to fix it, he said.

Waikato Regional Council's Lynch said the region had seen about five piggery-related prosecutions over the last five years but this was the most severe. It was also the first where the impact of pollution was so obvious on the surface water.

The largest effluent-related fine handed out in the Waikato was $114,000 for a dairy farmer who used lay-flat hoses to pump effluent into a nearby tributary which led into the river.

The farm owner is currently appealing the fine.Company fines of up to $600,000 were possible under the Resource Management Act, Lynch said. But the $41,250 fine for Farm Effluent Services Limited was in the mid range of that generally handed out for dairy cases.

Lynch recently told farmers at a Waikato Federated Farmers dairy industry group meeting the regional council had undertaken 110 RMA prosecutions since 2005.

They included 59 for dairy effluent breaches, 12 for earthworking, eight for objectionable odour and seven each for intensive farming and industrial discharge.

The council averaged 13 prosecutions a year and had a 98 per cent success rate when a case went before the courts. 

Waikato Times