Different rules for councils and farms

Federated Farmers Otago Dairy Chair Stephen Crawford writes on different environmental standards for councils and farms:

As a farmer I have been increasingly concerned by the lack of consistency between council treatment of urban and rural users when it comes to the actions taken under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

We have all seen farmers prosecuted in the Environment Court for breaches under the RMA, for matters such as effluent discharges that “may enter water”.

These are the critical few words found in the RMA that most prosecutions are based on (“…and may enter water”). What that means is that the contaminant didn’t necessarily enter water or cause pollution, it just “may” have been able to enter water – and that’s a big difference. . .

Is there any other area where the potential to do something wrong is treated as if you have actually done something wrong?

If you were in a pub with car keys in your pocket you may drive when you shouldn’t but you may also walk, call a taxi, get someone else to drive or find another way home but you would not be charged because you may drive.

Of course it’s not always that simple. In some cases, contaminants from farms do in fact enter water. That cannot be condoned and depending on the circumstances, the Environment Court may be the appropriate course of action.

Last spring, the Otago Regional Council (ORC) boss Peter Bodeker went to media, stating that recent dairy inspections in Otago were not good enough and that an unacceptable number of breaches had been found.

If you watched 7 Sharp on Tuesday night, you will see some of our most popular swimming beaches in are unsafe to swim in due to the overflow sewage systems that some city councils’ use, there is no “may” about it.  So let’s compare these on-farm breaches of the RMA to those in the urban sector.

Last November, media reported that in Cromwell 3,500 litres of untreated waste had entered Lake Dunstan. In response, the ORC determined that no action was required.

Over recent months and years, Queenstown Lakes District Council has had numerous untreated spills into the lake, and not a single prosecution has eventuated to date.

Apart from the fact that a major tourist destination’s image is being tarnished by the site of untreated sewage flowing on streets and into the lake, that waste is entering water and is simply bad for the environment.

If Queenstown was a farm, there would be a huge public outcry for it to be shut down until major improvements could bring it up to appropriate standards.

Other towns around the country actually have consent to pollute on a daily basis.

Milton is just one example.  It has been issued consent by the ORC to intermittently discharge 9,150 cubic meters per day of untreated wastewater mixed with storm water to the Tokomairiro River.

This discharge permit expires on December 31, 2017. But don’t worry; part of the consent approval includes a diagram for a sign to be erected, saying “Danger. Keep Out. No Swimming”.

Other New Zealand towns also have consent to discharge untreated or partially treated waste to land “in a manner that may enter water”. Interesting that those towns have these discharge consents approved by councils, when this is the same standard for which farmers are being prosecuted.

For many coastal towns the solution is simple, just put waste out to sea in a longer and ever extending pipeline. Well at least it doesn’t get to freshwater that way, although as we’ve seen recently, the impact on many of our beaches is not something to be proud of.

It is one rule for council discharges, and a completely different rule for farmers and I’m convinced the environment doesn’t notice the difference.

To people living in urban New Zealand, you have been “sold” a story comprising limited science based on a successful and catchy slogan, “dirty dairy”. And from that was born the misconception that most pollution is from farms.

Regional councils around the country continue to turn a blind eye to blatant urban pollution, both within discharge consent parameters and through unconsented spills into our lakes and rivers.

Farmers don’t expect any special treatment. We have a huge responsibility in looking after our environment. But nor do we expect to be targeted and singled out by regional councils.

All we ask is that in the interests of our environment, we have a more level playing field.  Currently what we have is anything but.

Farmers live near to, swim in and drink from the waterways which border their farms giving them a very personal interest in ensuring they are clean.

We’re not asking for special treatment we are asking for fairness.

Discharges which may enter a waterway should not be regarded in a similar way to pollution which does enter a waterway and councils shouldn’t get special treatment when others appear to be treated with far less leniency.

24 Responses to Different rules for councils and farms

  1. Imagine a leaking silage-pit built beside a river, creating a 10 kilometre dead-zone where even the tough-as eels are belly-up.
    10 kilometres!

    Turns your stomach, doesn’t it.

  2. Maori tikanga would have human manure disposed to soil, rather than water. That’s hardly ever followed in New Zealand. When the earth-closet was superseded by the water-closet, our waterways must have wept.

  3. Andrei says:

    When the earth-closet was superseded by the water-closet, our waterways must have wept.

    And we haven’t seen a typhoid epidemic in generations.

    How do you manage your personal sewerage Robert?

  4. “Is there any other area where the potential to do something wrong is treated as if you have actually done something wrong?”

    Carrying a gun?

  5. Andrei – Earth-closets, had they been developed further, as water-closets were, could have been the far better option for humanure management, I reckon. In the case of flush toilets such as we in New Zealand favour, dilution is not the solution to pollution, it’s a vastly-complicating factor. Mixing sewerage with industrial effluent seems madness on a scale that’s hard to fathom – why would anyone make the situation worse by adding vast amounts of water polluted with industrial waste to an already exacerbated problem?

    I think the farmer’s union is playing the old, “You can’t prove it!” game here. If the effluent can’t be proven, usually at great cost to the rate-payer,, to have entered a waterway, they don’t want to pay for spills, obvious though they may be.

  6. Mr E says:

    In Southland farmers have been convicted and fined for potential water pollution from effluent while township residents get away with actual sewage pollution.

    And I agree with Stephen, “To people living in urban New Zealand, you have been “sold” a story comprising limited science”

    I find it strange and bizarre that Councils don’t do more to educated the public with good science. I’ve heard people say, ‘promotion of good science doesn’t support the Councils wish to grow and make more rules’. If that is true, leadership has really lost its way.

  7. Country attacking town is foolish, in my opinion, given that most farmers retire to the towns. A bit like slagging-off your own people. Individual townspeople can’t do much about a sewerage system that’s faulty, whereas a farmer can attend to his on-farm effluent issues. If a regional council fines a territorial authority for incidents that require huge sums of ratepayers money to fix, ratepayers are “punished” for something they didn’t personally do. The cost of new, reliable, effective water-based effluent disposal systems for townspeople can be astronomical. That’s why I talk about the ‘water closet’ system being the wrong model. These arguments will go round and round because the basic model is wrong, imho. I think the same thing with regard conventional agriculture.

  8. Mr E says:

    “Carrying a gun?”

    Are hunters treated as criminals?

  9. If they carry their gun down Dee Street they might well be.

  10. Mr E says:

    “Individual townspeople can’t do much about a sewerage system that’s faulty”

    Ha Ha Haaaaaa!

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/news/9720015/Sewerage-failure-costly-for-residents

    “Sanitary survey dye tests revealed effluent on 20 properties, direct discharge from septic tanks into waterways on 15 properties and indirect discharge into waterways from 16 properties via soakholes or filed tiles.

    “Those on bore should not be drinking the water,” he said. ”

    The towns people of Kennington:

    “Shocked residents of Kennington, 10km east of Invercargill, were aghast when told they would have to contribute at least $9600 each to replace the sewer system. ”

    Robert says these townspeople – “cant do much” – perhaps they should just stay “aghast” and pour raw sewage “direct” to our waterways.

  11. Mr E says:

    Letter to hunters:
    If you buy a gun from Leven street hunting store – don’t park on the next street, Dee street. Apparently getting your gun to your car could be a criminal activity.

  12. I was meaning those connected to a sewerage system that feeds to a treatment station. I do share the same concerns with you, Mr E, over septic tanks. I believe they are a very poor system for the treatment of humanure. Those Kennington residents were understandably shocked to learn that were to pay for a water-based effluent system, in my view. Something has to be done, but that, in my view, ain’t it and as I was saying, the faulty model is what’s creating these never-ending problems with the disposal/use of humanure. I certainly don’t support leaving, ignoring or excusing failed septic tanks.

  13. How, Mr E, did,
    “the potential to do something wrong is treated as if you have actually done something wrong?”

    become, “a criminal activity”?

    What goes on in your head?

  14. Mr E says:

    How, Robert Guyton, did

    ” could be a criminal activity.”

    become, “a criminal activity”?

    To cite you “What goes on in your head?”

  15. Mr E says:

    “I was meaning those connected to a sewerage system that feeds to a treatment station”

    “Individual townspeople can’t do much about a sewerage system that’s faulty”

    Ha ha haaaaaaa! Arent you a voted in by the people to do something? Aren’t you the peoples solution? Councillor? What a poor poor excuse for nooney noon. ‘Individual I represents = relatively helpless’

    “Those Kennington residents were understandably shocked”

    So shocked the paper called them “embattled”. You think it is understandable that they are shocked at the cost of fixing the problems. When the Council is there supporting them, not fining them, not prosecuting them. Understanding that they are shocked at the cost of fixing their polluting ways.

    Oh Dear! To raw sewage waterway polluting people our Council show ‘understanding’. To potential polluting farmers – prosecution.

    “I believe they are a very poor system for the treatment of humanure.”

    I don’t agree. Some are – not all.

  16. Mr E – you believe the council does nothing but prosecute “potential polluting farmers”?
    Really?
    You need to get into the North Road building, make an appointment to talk with the CEO and learn what processes are in place to assist farmers and help them avoid prosecution. I feel you are way off line with your thinking here. Too angry to think straight? Perhaps. Mostly confused, I reckon.

  17. Mr E says:

    Robert,
    Your above comment “council does nothing but” suggests a comprehension issue. I’ve never said anything like that.

    I cant help but recognise the irony of these recent phrases, in a blog about fair treatment of Rural and Urban peoples.

    “council does nothing”
    “Individual townspeople can’t do much”

  18. You’ve lost your way with this discussion, Mr E. Just stick with your, “Councils are baaaaaad! meme and you’ll not feel so light-headed.

  19. Mr E says:

    “Just stick with your, “Councils are baaaaaad! meme and you’ll not feel so light-headed.”

    I don’t have any such “meme”. Your constant misrepresentation of my views, appears to me an attempt to inflame.

    It won’t work. I often laugh at D grade politics.

    Trying to resurrect the discussion to a constructive level, let me ask, can you see your Council trying to even out these repeated calls of double standards?

  20. “I often laugh at D grade politics.”
    I’m happy you get so much pleasure from being a John-Key fan.
    Constructive discussion time – the council, to its credit, constantly strives to be fair to all. I believe it is far to lenient on particular groups, but over all, I believe they do right by their constituents. The “calls of double standards” of course, aren’t necessarily valid calls and have a thought, Mr E, self-appointed farming champion, for those sections of society who’s calls for double-standards are too quiet to be heard. The farmer’s union are loud, brash even, and have their bellowing calls heeded to by nervous councillors, but there are many, many people who don’t take that same bull-at-a-gate approach, yet have concerns, about double standards and other things, that you probably never hear about. As a councillor representative of a different client than you generally associate with, I do hear those calls and have thereby a wider view of issues than you do. That’s why my being a councillor is so valuable, according to those people 🙂

  21. Mr E says:

    “I’m happy you get so much pleasure from being a John-Key fan”

    Pleasurable A grade politics helps me identify the D grade stuff, I laugh about. Pleased you recognise it.

    “constantly strives to be fair to all”

    Strives is not achieves. – You agree then.

    “self-appointed farming champion” – Please show where I have attributed this title to myself. You can’t because you are wrong, and I suspect simply trying to inflame again. D grade.

    “The farmer’s union are loud, brash even, and have their bellowing calls heeded to by nervous councillors,”

    Councillors are nervous? Why? And if they are nervous, why are they “bull at the gate”. Surely nervous does not equal enthusiasm?

    “many people who don’t take that same bull-at-a-gate approach, yet have concerns, about double standards and other things, that you probably never hear about.”

    Why would I not hear about them? Are these the same individuals that you say – can’t do much. The same ones you represent on the Council. They also have no public voice? Even though you have been voted by them? No public voice and inactivity. Sounds like a desperately horrible situation. Sounds like they need a Champion. A real Champion.

    “I do hear those calls and have thereby a wider view of issues than you do. That’s why my being a councillor is so valuable, according to those people :-)”

    You hear those views – but wont repeat them? Why ? Surely with all of you public writings you could expel some of those views? Or are you under some sort of censorship, embargo, gag order? Like a ‘bull in a crush’ – so to speak?

    This sounds of great concern.

  22. Your faux-concern suits you. “Mr E”.
    I do indeed broadcast the views of the people I represent, “Mr E”. You are too busy disparaging them to hear the voices of those who express them, through me. Such hubris you exhibit! Such puffed-up uber-confidence! And yet, you represent…no one, but yourself.
    Why is that, I wonder? Have you no team? I have more than one and I believe I represent them well.
    Why are you a lone ranger, “Mr E”?

  23. Mind you, you do represent the councils are baaaaad crew here, but that’s a self-appointed position, I’m guessing.

  24. Mr E says:

    “Faux – concern
    too busy disparaging them to hear the voices”

    You pretend to know my thoughts – in your gross misrepresentation of them. You don’t know my thoughts, simply trying to inflame again, I think.

    “Such hubris you exhibit! Such puffed-up uber-confidence! And yet, you represent…no one, but yourself.”

    After all this time I would have thought you would have understood, 2 things. Generally I represent 2 things. The facts. My own opinion (often prepared with facts).
    It is easy to be confident when I represent those things.

    I don’t need a bunch of back slappers, a club of huggers, or pied piper plunging people to be confident. Fact and my opinion (usually determined by facts) – what is not be confident about.

    Who is it you think you represent? The inactive sewage polluter and the voiceless? Or is it farmers?

    That gives you confidence?

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