Record fine for illegal discharge into Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere

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A company found responsible for the illegal discharge of dairy effluent to land on a Springston property in October 2010 has been fined a record $90,000. This penalty is on top of the $20,000 fine and 260 hours’ community service the farm manager received for the same offences late last year.

White Gold Ltd held a resource consent permitting discharge of dairy effluent on to land. However, concerned members of the public reported effluent flowing into an adjacent drain into streams that ultimately fed into Te Waihora / Lake Ellesmere.

Environment Canterbury found some 45,000 litres of diluted dairy effluent were discharged over a three-day period. This resulted in extreme saturation of the land and a pond of effluent estimated to comprise an area of nearly 29,000 square metres, including up to four inches or 100 millimetres of dairy effluent solids on the ground.

In imposing the fine, Judge Doherty in the District Court at Christchurch found that effluent actually entered groundwater and farm drains were also affected.

This case was the first time that Environment Canterbury had provided to a criminal sentencing court a cultural impact statement on the effects of such a large illegal discharge on the cultural, physical and spiritual values of Ngāi Tahu. Judge Doherty took into account the serious impact of the offending not only on their physical relationship with Te Waihora but also on their cultural relationship with these waters.

In August last year, Ngāi Tahu and Environment Canterbury signed Whakaora Te Waihora, a long-term commitment and agreement to restore and rejuvenate the mauri and ecosystem health of Te Waihora. The way Ngāi Tahu and Environment Canterbury worked together on this case illustrates how this co-governance of the lake is developing.

David O’Connell, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu General Manager of Tribal Interests, says the iwi supports the action taken against the polluters. “Illegally discharged dairy effluent is not a victimless crime,” Mr O’Connell 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.”

In arriving at the appropriate level of fine for the offending, Judge Doherty took into account the need for deterrence of others, the fact that the company did not have proper oversight of the farm manager and there was no system in place to alert the company to the offending.

Environment Canterbury had filed earlier non-compliance reports although there had been no previous prosecutions against the company.

Brett Aldridge, Regional Manager RMA Monitoring and Compliance, says he is sure the large total penalty imposed in this very serious case would act as a deterrent to others.

“Our goal is to work alongside consent holders to enable them to do business while also meeting their environmental obligations,” Mr Aldridge 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.

“The key point in this case is that while the company wasn’t aware of or responsible for the farm manager’s actions, it didn’t have the processes in place to allow it to identify that things had gone wrong and take action 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.”