Court fines Taupō farm for unlawful animal effluent discharges

By Te Ao - Māori News

Council officer noting the scale of overflow of effluent from feed pad on a farm at Oruanui, north of Taupō.

A Taupō-based farming operation has been convicted and fined $194,250 for unlawfully discharging animal effluent into the environment.

The penalty was ordered by the Tokoroa District Court and follows the repeated unlawful discharge of animal effluent between November 7, 2019 and March 2, 2020.

Gardon Ltd runs a dairy farm operation at Oruanui, north of Taupō, which employs a number of whānau in the area.

The company has been convicted of two charges of unlawfully discharging a contaminant into the environment and a further charge for not adhering to a council notice. It was fined a total of $101,250.

Company director Gerard Donald manages the 1150-cow farm and has been convicted on a charge of unlawfully discharging a contaminant into the environment. He has been fined $35,000.

Donald has also been convicted on a further charge as representative of the unlawful discharges and was fined $28,000.

Effluent Pumping Systems Ltd (EPSL) has been convicted of one charge of unlawfully discharging a contaminant into the environment and fined $30,000.

Council disappointed

Waikato Regional Council’s regional compliance manager Patrick Lynch says big farming operations are expected to set an example.

“We look to larger farm operations and professional spreading companies to lead the industry and set examples of best practice.

"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.” 

As well as running the farming operation at Oranui, Gordon Donald is a director and shareholder of another company, which owns two neighbouring dairy farms.

He was employed through his company, Gardon Ltd, as the general manager responsible for the overall management of these two farms.

Council officer taking samples of ponded effluent on a farm at Oruanui, north of Taupō.

Council investigation

Council staff inspected the first of these farms, which milks 1750 cows, on November 7, 2019, and found effluent flowing down through a stormwater retention pond into a sinkhole in the ground.

A follow-up inspection on November 21, 2019, found effluent was still flowing into the sinkhole, despite directions from council staff to clean it away and prevent further discharges.

Council staff checked a second Gardon farm, which milked 1600 cows, on November 21, 2019. 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 effluent irrigated from three stationary irrigators had caused significant ponding of effluent over large areas in an undulating paddock.

Waikato Regional Council staff then carried out a monitoring inspection at the Oranui farm on November 26, 2019. They found that over a prolonged period of time an effluent irrigation hydrant had been discharging effluent, 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. 

Also on November 26, 2019, contracting company The Effluent Pumping Systems (EPSL) was at this farm pumping out one of the farm effluent storage ponds using a large portable pump and tractor-mounted irrigator.

Council staff found EPSL staff had over-applied effluent over a large area causing significant ponding and runoff of effluent.

Notice issued

An abatement notice was issued to Gordon Ltd requiring it to cease any further unlawful discharges of effluent.

At a follow-up inspection by council staff on March 2, 2020, a buried pipe carrying effluent to a sump was found to have had an inspection hole cut in it. The hole had not been resealed, with the pipe discharging effluent over a prolonged period of time, causing effluent ponding in breach of Waikato Regional Plan rules and against the orders of the abatement notice.