What Are The Rules?    

Answers to frequently asked questions about what the rules are.

What Do I Have To Do To Be Compliant?    

Any discharge of effluent to water is illegal unless it is specifically authorised by a resource consent. For oxidation ponds with resource consents to discharge treated effluent to water the conditions in the individual consent must be met.

Discharges to land are only lawful if all of the conditions of the Tasman Resource Management Plan permitted activity rule are met

Tasman Resource Management Plan Part VI Discharges, Chapter 36: Rules for Contaminant Discharges

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What is the Effluent Storage Sealing Requirement and How Do I Meet It?  

Current Tasman District Council rules state that storage facilities need to be sealed to prevent seepage of effluent. In order to achieve this, the permeability of the sealing layer must not exceed 1x10-9 metres per second (m/s). This sealing standard generally applies to clay materials, however if an alternative type of liner is selected then it should be of comparative quality. This information should be supplied by the manufacturer.

In layman’s terms, clay sealing is related to the volume of effluent in the pond, the thickness of the clay liner and the permeability of that liner. DairyNZ and Opus tested clays and found that a liner 300mm thick to a permeability of 1x10-7m/s leaked 100mm per day compared to 0.1mm per day from a 600mm thick liner at a permeability of 1x10-9m/s. This difference is a significant point source pressure on water resources in Tasman, and is why the more stringent sealing limit is in place.

Compliance sealing can be achieved by a range of materials, for example, concrete, geotextile membranes, and some types of clay soils which do not crack easily and have a suitable clay and plasticity level. To ensure compliance it is strongly advised to have a geotechnical soil analysis test performed and to carry out standard compaction methods during the construction of clay lined ponds.

Any liner material may be insufficiently sealed if not installed and managed according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

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How is the Ponding of Effluent Defined?    

The simplest definition of ponding is when stamping a gumboot in applied effluent causes splashing to occur. Effluent applied at a rate no greater than 25mm to a soil that is not already saturated should not lead to ponding; however, depending on soil type or saturation level the application rate may need to be significantly less than 25mm.

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What Happens If I Have a One-Off Incident?    

The effluent system should be designed, constructed and maintained to ensure failures are rare and management of the system should respond quickly if an incident occurs. However one-off incidents such as a pipe burst, the pipe blowing off the irrigator, the irrigator stalling in the paddock or overflowing holding facility due to an unexpected pump breakdown do happen on farms.

The Resource Management Act (RMA) contains specific statutory defences that protect people from prosecution in certain circumstances. In summary, if the action or event that led to the prosecution was beyond the control of the person, and the effects of the action or event were adequately remedied or mitigated, then the person may have a defence. Note that the full wording of these defences are specified in section 341 of the RMA. We recommend farmers seek independent legal advice to clarify how these defences may apply to their specific situation.

A decision on what enforcement action (if any) will occur depends on a number of factors. These factors include:

  • the size, scale duration and toxicity of the discharge
  • the quality of the environment affected
  • the severity and duration of the effects
  • the deliberateness or negligence associated with the incident
  • the farm or farmer’s prior compliance history
  • the attitude or cooperation shown
  • the degree of profit or benefit the person may have gained from the offending

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What Happens When My Farm is Inspected by Tasman District Council?   

If a property is inspected for compliance then it will be given a compliance status for the entire site as listed below.

As with all dairy farm inspections undertaken by Council, farms once assessed were placed into one of three categories that described their level of compliance. The criteria for assigning these categories are:

  • Compliant: No non-compliance with any Resource Consent conditions or any sections of Rule 36.1.2. 3 of the TRMP were found at the time of inspection.
  • Non-compliant: All issues that did not fit into either “compliant” or “significantly non-compliant” e.g. technical non compliance with no adverse effect.
  • Significantly Non-compliant: Criteria for assigning a grade of significant non compliance, and examples of situations that would meet the criteria are presented below. Please note: this list is not exclusive and serves as a guide only.
Criteria Examples

Unauthorised discharges that have entered water

(Ground or surface water)

Overflowing ponds or sumps into surface water.

Overland flow /runoff into surface water.

Irrigating over surface water.

Race/feedpad/standoff pad runoff into surface water.

Discharges in breach of consent or plan rule conditions, and where adverse effects are visible/measurable/likely: e.g.
- S107 considerations e.g. change in colour or clarity after mixing
- Exceeding ammonia limits
- Exceeding NTU/SS limits
- Exceeding BOD limits
- Exceeding faecal limits
- Exceeding ground water nitrogen concentration limits

Unauthorised Discharges that may enter water (Ground or surface water)

Significant surface ponding.

Irrigating when soil conditions are too wet.

Discharge without using an irrigator (e.g. pipe end discharge).

Sludge dumping in close proximity of any water.

Discharges in breach of consent or plan rule conditions, and where adverse effects are visible and/or measurable and/or likely: e.g.

- Exceeding nutrient application rates

- Exceeding effluent application depths/rates

Breach of abatement notice/enforcement order Any breach of an abatement notice/ enforcement order
Objectionable effects of odour Serious adverse effects of odour have occurred
Multiple non compliances on site with cumulative effects Multiple minor discharges into a sensitive environment

These compliance terms are use by all Regional Councils when reporting on dairy compliance.

Any non-compliances are noted and kept on the property record, and may have a bearing on any enforcement action decisions relating to further non-compliances. You will be informed of any non-compliances identified, even if no enforcement action is taken.

Generally there are three levels of punitive enforcement action based on the severity of the case. A formal warning, a $750 infringement notice, or a prosecution. A prosecution results in a court appearance where significant penalties are available to a sentencing judge and convictions may be entered against a person or company. Offences against the Resource Management Act are criminal offences and carry a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment or a $300,000 fine for an individual and $600,000 for an entity ‘other than a natural person’ (e.g. a company).

An abatement notice or enforcement order are other non-punitive enforcement options that may be required to give direction to remedy non-compliance or environmental effect.

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What Happens If My Worker/Sharemilker Breaches The Rules?    

Each non-compliance case is assessed on an individual basis and the responsibility and liability will be attributed accordingly. If a worker who is responsible for the day-to-day management of the effluent system has been fairly informed and educated in how to run the effluent system in compliance with Tasman District Council rules, and that worker applies effluent in breach of the rules, then the worker is likely to be held to a degree but not in entirety, to account.

However, if the infrastructure or instruction provided to the worker is deemed inadequate to manage the effluent the liability can shift back to the owner of the property.

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What Happens If The Effluent System I Have to Work with Cannot Comply?    

If the infrastructure provided to the worker is inadequate to manage the effluent then the owner of the property is likely to be held to greater account. It is the owner’s responsibility to provide compliant infrastructure. It is the worker’s responsibility to inform the owner of the infrastructure that needs upgrading or replacing.

It is sensible to make a note in a diary or keep a record of what the owner has been told and when. However, it is still the worker’s responsibility to take all possible action to prevent non-compliance occurring. When starting milking on a new farm either as owner, share milker or worker, it is important to assess the effluent system and be confident that it is fit for purpose. If the system is not compliant then any person working with that system has the potential to be held accountable.

Tasman District Council recognises that it takes time to engage finances and the services of appropriate professionals to ensure a high standard effluent system, and that construction is weather dependant. The council cannot ignore any non-compliance that occurs during that process, but all favourable steps to mitigate effects would be considered in the making of enforcement decisions.

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Why Are There Rules, and What Are They?    

The Resource Management Act (RMA) was enacted to promote management of natural resources, soil, water and air, to ensure they are sustained for future generations. Tasman District Council, based on scientific evidence and regional monitoring data, developed a regional plan in 1998, which was made operative in 2011. It contains limits and compliance rules aimed at achieving the requirements of the RMA relating to management of discharges of contaminants.

The current regional plan rules regarding the disposal of farm dairy effluent have been largely unchanged since then (1998). If new research, data and scientific evidence shows that current rules are not meeting the desired outcome or requirements of the RMA, then a variation or more stringent regulations can be enforced.

The rules are designed to ensure that a baseline of practice is adhered to. The rules are not an ‘ideal target’ to try to get close to, but maximum allowable limit to ensure resource protection.

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Does Tasman District Council Keep Changing The Rules?    

The current rules have been largely unchanged since 1998. Since 2009 a summary of all the rules related to effluent irrigation have been issued to all dairy farmers prior to their annual inspection. These rules have not changed.

The focus on dairy effluent monitoring and enforcement has increased in recent years as non-compliant dairy farms have been identified, and monitoring has shown continuing degradation of water quality. The rules have often been misinterpreted or have been monitored at a lower priority but the inspection process is continually reviewed to account for the increasing significance of environmental issues and pressure from the public.

Tasman District Council has been working with relevant industry groups and the farming community to provide better advice on how to achieve compliance and decrease the risk of environmental impacts. As more scientific evidence becomes available regarding the impacts of dairy effluent on natural resources, specific rules could be reviewed to reflect current best practice.

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If I am Non-Compliant Will I Be Prosecuted and How Does The Enforcement Process Work?    

Once your property has been selected for monitoring a site visit will occur. If non-compliance is detected on site, photos, samples and written statements may be taken.

You have certain rights in law when a criminal offence is being investigated. In order to ensure you are aware of these rights, an enforcement officer may caution you prior to asking you for information about what has happened and why. The purpose of the caution is to ensure you are aware of your rights and obligations in law.

All the information gathered as part of the investigation will be presented by one of the staff members that performed the site inspection and as a minimum one other resource officer and a manager. All the information and details taken on site will be discussed and the most appropriate course taken. If prosecution is recommended, a panel of senior managers at the council will consider the investigation results and make a final decision as to whether prosecution will take place. This process is designed to have a consistent approach to all enforcement action.

Prosecution can be a lengthy and costly procedure. This method of enforcement is reserved for serious instances of non-compliance. A large number of aggravating factors are considered, such as if a direct discharge to water has occurred, or if there has been an element of deliberateness or negligence. Prosecution cases, although they may be prominent in the media, are a very small proportion of the total enforcement action taken.

The enforcement options for non-compliance are as follows:

  • Formal warning – a written notice notifying the farmer of which rule has been breached and the standard that needs to be met in future.
  • Abatement notice – a notice that requires you to cease an action or take an action.
  • Infringement notice – this is the equivalent of an environmental ‘speeding’ fine where a breach of the Resource Management Act (RMA) has occurred. The value of the fine is set in statue at $750 for discharge offences. An infringement notice can be issued for every day the non-compliance occurs. Separate infringement notices can be issued for individual breaches of the Act, and they can be issued to different parties for the same offence.
  • Enforcement order – a court order from the Environment Court requiring an action to be undertaken.
  • Prosecution – a prosecution will lead to a district court appearance and may result in a conviction and sentence. The maximum penalties available under the RMA are two years imprisonment or a $300,000 fine for an individual and $600,000 for an entity ‘other than a natural person’ (for example, a company).

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Can Tasman District Council Tell Me If My Effluent Plan Will Be Compliant With Its Regulations?    

Tasman District Council staff are not qualified to audit the design of an effluent system and confirm whether or not it will meet regulations.

The best advice can be gained from independent effluent consultants and designers, dairy supply companies, DairyNZ and other dairy industry organisations.

Tasman District Council compliance inspections currently look at whether an effluent system is compliant at a given point in time based on inspection date. Factors such as climate conditions (for example prolonged wet weather), a change to the farm system (for example an increase in cow numbers or introducing a feed pad), or mis-management of the systems may result in the farm being non-compliant. Where it is clearly obvious that your farm is at risk of non-compliance, Tasman District Council will draw your attention to this fact. Other organisations, such as Fonterra, will provide you with information and recommendations for designing and managing your system so that you can be compliant throughout the season.

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I Was Told To Fill In My Ponds and Now You Want Me To Build Them Again, Will You Ever Make Up Your Minds As To What You Want?    

Tasman District Council rules have encouraged farmers to use land treatment in preference to the discharge of treated effluent from pond systems. At the specific request of the dairy industry the design decision of the land application system was left to the farmer to allow for innovation. The farmer, through industry consultation, is required to identify what is needed – including storage, area to be irrigated and irrigation equipment – to achieve the outcomes defined in the rules that haven’t changed.

Our monitoring and conversations with farmers consistently identify that a lack of storage is a significant factor in the majority of non-compliance. Tasman District Council has drawn this to the attention of farmers to help them to correct any shortcomings of their system design before non-compliance occurs. This is consistent with Tasman District Council’s general advisory role.

Although these rules have remained basically the same for many years, Tasman District Council cannot guarantee that they will continue in their current form. Plans under the RMA must be reviewed at least every 10 years and if they are not achieving their purpose, changes to the rules can be expected.

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What Are The Safety Requirements Around Ponds?    

Tasman District Council has no governance of safety regulations but does support that effluent systems meet any current and future safety rules as issued by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, and industry guidelines.

Effluent storage facilities should be fenced as required under the farm’s health and safety policy.

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