Unlawful effluent discharges on Waikato farms leads to fines of almost $200,000

The overflow of effluent from the feed pad at Oruanui.
The overflow of effluent from the feed pad at Oruanui. Photo credit: Waikato Regional Council

A Taupō-based farming company, a company director and an effluent spreading company have been fined a total of almost $200,000 for repeatedly discharging animal effluent unlawfully.

The incidents took place between November 2019 and March 2020 on three large farming operations. 

The farming company in question, Gardon Limited, faced two charges of unlawfully discharging a contaminant into the environment and a further charge of contravening an abatement notice. It was fined a total of $101,250.

The company ran a dairy operation at Oruanui, north of Taupō, with 1150 cows, and was managed by company director Gerard Logan Donald.

In a statement on Tuesday, Waikato Regional Council said inspectors first visited the farm in November 2019.

"They found an effluent irrigation hydrant had been discharging dairy shed effluent over a prolonged period of time which was ponding near the hydrant. 

"As well, a travelling irrigator operating earlier the same day had been over-irrigating effluent onto already wet soils, resulting in further ponding of effluent in breach of Waikato Regional Plan rules." 

An abatement notice was issued to the company ordering it to stop the unlawful discharging but at a follow-up inspection in March, more effluent ponding was found on the farm.

"A buried pipe carrying dairy shed effluent to a sump was found to have had an inspection hole cut in it," the council said.

"This had not been resealed, resulting in the pipe discharging effluent over a prolonged period of time, causing effluent ponding in a paddock below the pipe." 

Two other farms relating to Donald were also found to be illegally discharging effluent.

According to the council, Donald is also a director and shareholder of another company that owns two adjacent dairy farms, and he was employed through his company Gardon Limited as the general manager responsible for the overall management of these two farms.

An inspection at one of these farms in November 2019 found the unlined effluent storage pond designed to take effluent from the feed pad was overflowing, with effluent flowing down through a stormwater retention pond into a sinkhole, "despite directions from council staff to clean the effluent away and prevent further discharges".

Donald was fined $35,000 and convicted of one charge of unlawfully discharging a contaminant into the environment.

A contracting company, The Effluent Pumping System Limited (EPSL), that was also operating on the farm was also convicted on one charge of unlawfully discharging a contaminant into the environment and fined $30,000.

The company was pumping out one of the farm effluent ponds using a large portable pump and tractor-mounted irrigator, but council staff found workers had over-applied effluent over a large area, causing a significant ponding and runoff of effluent.

Donald was also fined a further $28,000 and convicted on a representative charge for a number of unlawful discharges relating to a second farm he ran, also in November 2019.

The council said when inspectors visited that farm, "they found the effluent sumps at two stock underpasses under State Highway 1 and Tram Road were overflowing into unsealed catch pits, in breach of Waikato Regional Plan rules."

"In addition, council staff found that dairy shed effluent irrigated from three stationary irrigators had caused the significant ponding of effluent over large areas in an undulating paddock."

Patrick Lynch, Waikato Regional Council's regional compliance manager, said the breaches were disappointing.

"We look to larger farm operations and professional spreading companies to lead the industry and set examples of best practice," he said on Tuesday.

"Clearly, this is not the case here. It is fair to say that both the regulator and the wider dairy industry are very disappointed with the breaches uncovered across this substantial farming enterprise."