A major new report released today by Forest & Bird reveals regional councils are not properly enforcing the rules in some of our biggest dairy farming regions.
The report Cleaning Up: Fixing Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement in the dairy sector exposes significant inconsistencies and gaps in how regional councils are enforcing the rules around dairy effluent management.
“It’s time the Government took stronger action to reign in poorly performing councils,” says Forest & Bird’s Freshwater Advocate and report co-author Annabeth Cohen. “Regional councils are supposed to protect our rivers, lakes and wetlands. But when it comes to managing the significant environmental risks posed by dairy effluent, some councils are failing even the basics.”
“Environment Southland and Waikato Regional Council were not even able to tell us how many dairy farms were operating in their regions in 2016-17.”
“Half of all regional councils don’t inspect all their dairy farms annually – together these regions account for three quarters of New Zealand’s dairy farms.”
A total of 5,000 dairy farms were not inspected for dairy effluent compliance in 2016-17, and nine seriously non-compliant farms in the Waikato hadn’t been inspected for over 10 years.
“These farms seem to have got away with polluting unchecked for the last decade.”
While there were 425 reported cases of serious non-compliance in 2016-17, Forest & Bird has calculated that due to patchy monitoring, there could have been up to 349 additional cases of serious non-compliance.
Ms Cohen says there were also significant inconsistencies in how councils responded to offending. Thirty eight percent (nearly two in every five) of the farms found to be seriously non-compliant did not receive any formal enforcement action such as an abatement notice, an infringement notice or a prosecution. 
“This is extremely concerning, given that ‘serious non-compliance’ means serious damage to the environment has either occurred or was imminent. We are facing a freshwater crisis, and yet too many councils are letting farmers get away with breaking the rules.”
One persistent offender in Northland received four abatement notices and eight infringement notices but was not prosecuted.
“When councils don’t address poor farming practice, it’s unfair to the many farmers who are doing great work and following the rules,” says Ms Cohen.
Forest & Bird has issued report cards based on council performance in detecting and responding to dairy effluent serious non-compliance. Ms Cohen says that while some councils are doing a good job, it’s very concerning that some of our big dairying regions are not pulling their weight, such as Waikato (graded F) and Southland (graded E).
Forest & Bird has set out a range of recommendations for both regional councils and central government.
“It’s simple really – we want all councils to know all dairy farms in their region, inspect all farms every year, and take appropriate action when rules are broken. And as for the Government, its time they ensured councils are meeting these basic requirements, and took stronger action to reign in poorly performing councils,” says Ms Cohen.
“We welcome the new RMA Oversight Unit announced by Environment Minister David Parker in this year’s Budget, but it’s crucial that the Unit is given a strong mandate and proper resourcing to actually hold councils to account.”
Cleaning Up: Fixing Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement in the dairy sector is available here, along with all data. The infographics used in the report are available on request.
- Half of all regional councils don’t inspect all their dairy farms annually and together these regions account for three quarters of New Zealand’s dairy farms.
- A total of 5,000 farms went unmonitored last year. Waikato has the highest number of dairy farms in the country (4,250), yet the vast majority (approximately 3,350) weren’t inspected in 2016-17.
- Environment Southland and Waikato Regional Council were not able to tell us how many dairy farms were operating in their regions in 2016-17.
- Nine farms in the Waikato that were seriously non-compliant with effluent discharge rules hadn’t been inspected for over 10 years.
- There were 425 reported cases of serious non-compliance in 2016-17, but Forest & Bird has calculated that due to patchy monitoring, there could have been up to 349 additional cases of serious non-compliance.
- For 29 farms this was the third year they were seriously non-compliant, and the majority of these were in Northland (25). Ten of these farms received no enforcement action at all.
- Thirty eight percent (nearly two in every five) of the farms found to be seriously non-compliant did not receive any formal enforcement action such as an infringement notice, an abatement notice or a prosecution.
- One persistent offender in Northland received four abatement notices and eight infringements notices but was not prosecuted.
- Only 55 percent of cases of serious non-compliance received a follow-up visit in the same year.
Key recommendations for government:
- Establish Ministry for the Environment’s RMA Oversight Unit, with terms of reference that ensure it can properly monitor, audit and report on councils’ performance and have appropriate tools to address any poor performance.
- Analyse and report on all serious non-compliance
- Identify and investigate inconsistencies, and review tools
- Develop an enforcement decision support tool for serious non-compliance
- Establish a recommended ratio of compliance staff to consents requiring monitoring
Notes for journalists:
- Between November 2017 and June 2018, Forest & Bird used the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA) to request data and information from all regional councils and unitary authorities (except the Chatham Islands). We asked councils to provide the results of their annual dairy farm monitoring, compliance and enforcement programmes for the 2016-17 monitoring year. The request included questions about instances of serious non-compliance in that year, and what enforcement action the councils took in response.
- The eight regions that didn’t monitor all farms in 2016-17 are Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Horizons (Manawatu-Whanganui), Nelson, Canterbury, West Coast, and Southland.
- Currently, the only public reporting on dairy effluent compliance, monitoring and enforcement is conducted by the dairy industry as part of the voluntary Sustainable Dairy Water Accord.
 Waikato Regional Council contacted Forest & Bird after this report was completed to say they had provided us with inaccurate information. They have since provided the following figures for enforcement actions taken in 2016-17: 111 Formal Warnings, 26 Infringement Notices, 39 Abatement Notices, and 4 Prosecutions. However the Council has still not indicated how many dairy farms they had in their region that year, or confirmed the total number of cases of serious non-compliance, which means we have been unable to recalculate this statistic.
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