Sunday, July 3, 2022

Proactive approach in Waikato

Waikato dairy farmers who have a sump or significantly inadequate storage will need to improve their  effluent system within one to two years of being inspected by the Waikato Regional Council (WRC).

The requirement as part of its new proactive monitoring programme will mean that if farmers believe they can’t afford the upgrade the council will want to see confirmation from their bank.

Rather than using random helicopter flights to identify farms with effluent breaches, the WRC will fly over and then visit 500 selected farms in areas where soils are classed as having greater risk for effluent run-off. 

Compliance and enforcement manager Rob Dragten and programme manager Ross Wrightman told Waikato Federated Farmers Dairy delegates any farms needing immediate attention after the flights will get a prompt follow up inspection, followed by the remaining farms.

Council staff will make an assessment on whether effluent systems are capable of being compliant 365 days of the year. If not farmers will receive another letter recommending they contact an accredited dairy effluent designer to review their system and come up with an improvement plan.

Once its designed the council will work with the farmer on an appropriate timeline for the improvements.
“If you’re going to do it properly it’s going to take time and it’s expensive,” Dragten said. “We recognise there’s a period of time that needs to be given to allow that.”

The council will take the farmers’ financial situation into consideration when coming up with a suitable timeframe.  

“If you had a letter from your bank saying under your current budget there is no way you could afford this until June next year, then absolutely we’re going to take that into account.

“There are times when you go and speak to people and they try and spin you a line, so we’re going to need to see some evidence.”

Dragten said the farmers found to be a higher priority will have to do something to upgrade their effluent system.

“If people are cooperative and they’re willing to buy into it and they start doing what they need to do, then it will only go as far as a letter.”

Farmers at the meeting asked what would happen if a pond was built and during a council inspection three years later it was found to be leaking. Dragten said DairyNZ recommended farmers engage a reputable company which agreed to operate by its dairy effluent code and would give a producers statement to say the pond had been designed and built in accordance with that code.

DairyNZ is also suggesting farmers move away from the traditional ‘handshake’ contract when spending $100,000 or more on upgrades, making sure their contract is very clear and contains clauses about liability.

Rating levels for action

The priority rating system for Waikato farm follow-up assessments is:

Level one. Farmers which helicopter flights show need to take immediate attention because of potential significant non-compliance with council effluent rules, such as over-irrigation or effluent run-off into water.

Any significant non-compliance will need to be fixed immediately. Council will investigate these incidents, and take enforcement action as appropriate.

Level two. Farmers with just a sump or significantly inadequate storage will receive an on-the-ground inspection, then a request for a timetable for making improvements. It’s expected they will consult an accredited effluent system designer to assess their current system and plan appropriate upgrades.

If the farmer refuses a formal abatement notice may be issued.

Improvement plans will need to be presented to the council within one to two months unless agreed otherwise, with system improvements undertaken in accordance with that.

Level three. Farmers where a pond shows signs of leakage or other failure will get a letter detailing council concerns and giving a deadline to produce a plan to address them. The timeframe for making improvements will depend on the seriousness of the issue.

Level four. Farmers with storage which doesn’t appear to be constructed in accordance with the dairy industry code of practice or other recommended guidelines, or consists of a former two pond system / barrier ditch system with sealing risk factors. As there’s a slightly lower risk profile farmers will be asked to seek advice on upgrading from an accredited effluent system designer and provide a timeline for changes.

Level five. Farmers with storage that appears to be sealed and well constructed but with no records kept on how it was constructed will receive a letter saying it would be advisable to get an accredited designer to confirm the system is properly sealed. If they do this and send the council the information, the farm will be considered to have achieved level six.

Level six. Farms with construction records for new ponds and effluent systems designed by an accredited designer, according to the effluent code of practise and design standards.

More articles on this topic