West Coast dairy compliance is not a ‘D’
A Forest & Bird report ranks the West Coast's compliance monitoring and enforcement in the 2016/17 dairy season as a 'D'.
Each of the country's regional, and unitary, councils were given a ranking according to whether they monitored 100 percent of their dairy farms annually for effluent compliance, conducted inspections with less than 24 hours' notice, conducted a follow-up visit to most of the serious non-compliant farms in the same year, took an enforcement action in every case of a serious non-compliance and whether they freely provided all relevant requested data.
West Coast Regional Council Chief Executive, Mike Meehan, said that there is more to it than what is in the report.
"Unfortunately not all of the information included in the Forest & Bird report has been interpreted correctly. This is not the fault of Forest & Bird, but is commonly the case when using a data set for a purpose not necessarily intended for it. However, I can comfortably say we are certainly not a 'D'."
The report claims that only 77 percent of the 383 dairy farms in the region were inspected over the 2016/17 season.
Council has set a target different to that of Forest & Bird. The Council's target is set through consultation with the community via our Long Term Plan process.
"Council monitors those farms that have a consent to discharge dairy effluent. Over the 2016/17 season, Council actually monitored 86% of the farms with these consents. Some farms operate under permitted activity rules whereby they discharge effluent to land. For these farms, our target is to inspect them at least every second year, dependent on each farms compliance history. Out of the total of 293 farms monitored during the 2016/17 season, 38 were found to be non-compliant."
The public complaints process is also an important tool by which Council becomes aware of potential non-compliances outside of the monitoring programme, and this was not captured by the report.
Overall, Council took a variety of enforcement actions in regard to dairy non-compliances, whether detected via routine monitoring, or a complaint, including four letters of direction, 13 formal warnings, 18 abatement notices and four infringement notices.
Council was also considered to have failed by giving farmers 24 hours' notice that they were to have their annual compliance inspection undertaken.
Mr Meehan believes that it is actually really important to get in touch with a farmer prior to an inspection being undertaken for a number of reasons.
"It's more helpful if the farmer is on the farm when we visit so our staff can talk through various issues if they arise, answer questions or provide information on queries relating to river works, pest management, rating districts or other potential consenting work that may be required."
"These are also working farms we want to get the most out of the visit as this maybe the only interaction we have with the farmer for the year, so we use it as an opportunity to discuss various issues."
Mr Meehan noted that it is a different case should Council receive a complaint.
"For the majority of our complaints, we do not provide advance notice," Mr Meehan said. "However, having been a compliance officer myself for a number of years, it is not easy to hide a serious non-compliance problem, we will find it."
Council is currently working through a review of processes and procedures across the board in the compliance area, including for the dairy sector.
"I consider this review to be good practice," said Mr Meehan. "I am expecting that there will be parts of what we currently do that we can do better, and I'm looking forward to seeing this adopted across the compliance work we do."
Mr Meehan also stated that work has been undertaken in previous years to gain better consistency in the way Councils across the country measure compliance. In addition to this more national information around water quality and other environmental measures is freely available via the LAWA website.
"Some form of discussion is required at a national level on how best to report data of this nature so that the public gets the right information in the right way without the inaccuracies that have occurred in this case."