Recently-released Waikato Regional Council data shows 21 environmental prosecutions were completed during the 2019-2020 financial year, with 42 convictions against 23 polluters.
A total of $1.189 million in fines was imposed against those convicted by specialist judges who heard these cases around the Waikato region.
“Prosecutions for the really serious environmental incidents are important, but only form part of our overall compliance strategy,” says Council’s regional compliance manager Patrick Lynch.
“A large part of daily business for our council is to enable the community and businesses to utilise and interact with natural and physical resources – like using water from the Waikato River. But using those resources comes with obligations.
“There is a balance to be struck and we have to ensure people also operate within environmental limits.”
Thousands of consents
Patrick says there are currently more than 11,400 resource consents across about 5000 sites in the Waikato, with 62 per cent of the monitored consents compliant last year.
“Non-compliance ranges in its seriousness, and for those found to be non-compliant a variety of actions will have been taken, including education.
“Sometimes, more than one action will be taken if initial directions are not heeded.”
Environmental compliance, enforcement and monitoring data for the last financial year also shows that 134 abatement notices, 71 infringement notices, six enforcement orders and 305 formal warnings were issued.
Of the region’s 4100-plus dairy farms, 820 were physically inspected.
More than 1700 environmental incidents were reported by the public all of which were assessed and responded to, with 570 physically attended by council staff.
In addition, regional council maritime officers interacted with more than 2500 people on coastal and inland waterways over the 2019/20 reporting period, with 86 infringements, 34 formal warnings and 72 verbal warnings.
Taupo constituency councillor and Environmental Performance Committee chair, Kathy White, says she is heartened by the results but concerned about the seemingly slow rate of behaviour change in some sectors.
“Council staff are working really hard and, as their governors, we continue to support them in their compliance, monitoring and enforcement work,” says Kathy.
Expanding the sector
To keep up with regulations from central government, council’s regional compliance section has recently been formed.
The section comprises five investigators for very serious incidents, a 24-hour incident response service and a team who monitor farmers’ environmental activities, as well as regional harbourmaster and maritime officers who ensuring compliance with the region’s navigation safety bylaw.
This section works closely with other staff in the council’s regulatory team that monitor compliance with the thousands of resource consents operative across the region.
“Though we have more regulatory obligations, we do not necessarily have more regional resources, so we have to be as efficient with our current resources as possible,” says Kathy.
“Ensuring our compliance teams work closely together assists with that.”
Council encourages people to report Waikato air, water, land pollution incidents, or maritime safety incidents by calling: 0800 800 402.