The Perils of Effluent Discharge

By | March 24, 2014

Sorting out the muck in the air

Have you driven down the road and had your windscreen splattered with effluent as farmers irrigate their paddocks with nutrient-dense animal waste? Has your washing been hanging on the line all day and now has a pungent odour? Many farmers use a travelling irrigator or muck spreader on the farm, so what are your obligations to protect the general public from the effect of your permitted farming activity?

While most farmers are now aware of the nitrogen loading on their farms and their obligation not to discharge into waterways, that’s not where responsibility stops and there can sometimes be nonchalance towards air contamination.

There are many differing rules depending on which territorial authority your land is subject to. However, all the rules come under the same basic principles where there’s a duty for you to manage air discharges in a way that protects those outside of your land boundaries from adverse effects. These adverse effects can range from terrible smells to actual particle contamination.

Resource Management Act

This legislation sets out constraints on regional and district councils when it comes to the development of any plan. The council must be satisfied, amongst other requirements, that any discharges from your farm will not result in any objectionable odour. (S70, Resource Management Act 1991)

While some regional and district plans specify a separation distance between land being treated with farm animal effluent and the neighbouring properties, not all do.

Using the Waikato Regional Plan as an example, the duty to manage air discharges under the plan requires that you:

  • Site and manage your system in a way that it prevents odour and spray drift nuisances
  • Do not irrigate or spread effluent near dwellings, boundaries or neighbours’ houses
  • Limit upward spraying from irrigators, and
  • Comply with any separation distance required by your local district council. (Waikato Regional Council Policy 6.1)

Under the Resource Management Act 1991 everyone who is discharging contaminants has a duty to avoid, remedy or mitigate adverse effects. (S17, Resource Management Act 1991)

What does this mean for you?

As someone discharging any effluent you must be certain that as far as is reasonably practicable you keep your discharge away from boundaries where neighbouring properties, public roads or other off-farm areas could be affected.

It means that if you do create a nuisance with what you’re discharging you need to move the irrigator as soon as you become aware of the issue and any damage you cause you rectify as soon as you can. If you don’t do this, you may be served with an enforcement order or an abatement notice. (S17(2), Resource Management Act 1991)

The Waikato Regional Plan

Using the Waikato Regional Plan again as an example, this plan allows for effluent discharge to the air to be a permitted activity as long as it complies with the following rules:

  1. There shall be no discharge of contaminants beyond the boundary of the subject property that has adverse effects on human health, or the health of flora and fauna.
  2. The discharge shall not result in odour that is objectionable to the extent that it causes an adverse effect at or beyond the boundary of the subject property.
  3. There shall be no discharge of particulate matter that is objectionable to the extent that it causes an adverse effect at or beyond the boundary of the subject property.
  4. The discharge shall not significantly impair visibility beyond the boundary of the subject property.
  5. The discharge shall not cause accelerated corrosion or accelerated deterioration to structures beyond the boundary of the subject property. (Waikato Regional Policy 6.1)

Where to from here?

You probably know that spreading animal effluent on your land is a permitted activity, but are you aware that even a permitted activity has rules that must be adhered to?

It’s absolutely essential that you know your regional and district plan regulations, and that everyone on your staff understands their obligations. You will need stringent on-farm policies and procedures that are clearly written and have been explained to all people on your farm team. You’ll also need to keep a watchful eye on the weather, look after your farm plant and machinery and monitor where your effluent discharge spreads to help ensure that your business remains compliant.

If you have any queries regarding your farm’s compliance, or about drafting of effective farm policies and procedures, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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