Waikato Regional Council will stop using helicopters for monitoring dairy farm effluent compliance pending a review of its methods for checking farmers are working within the rules to protect waterways.
Although ground-based monitoring will continue, stopping helicopter monitoring will affect the council’s ability to exercise its regulatory functions as effectively as in the past, the council heard.
The decision follows an earlier recommendation from the environmental performance committee for a halt to the flights, pending such a review, after it heard about the stress helicopter monitoring caused farmers.
During last Thursday’s meeting the council also agreed to establish a working party, with nominated representatives from the dairy leaders forum and councillors Alan Livingston, Clyde Graf and Stuart Husband.
The working party will investigate options for monitoring farm effluent systems and bring a recommendation back to the council within four months identifying the best options to undertake regular monitoring.
During a lengthy debate about the pros and cons of helicopter monitoring, some councillors questioned the link between farmer stress levels and helicopter monitoring but nevertheless agreed it was timely to review monitoring methods.
The helicopter flights were seen as an efficient way to cover farms and identify those where on-ground follow-up inspections might be necessary to determine whether effluent run off into waterways was occurring.
More recently, however, the council has taken a more targeted approach, with flights only over areas where soil conditions mean effluent is more likely to get into water. Staff look from the air to see who has obvious signs of effluent discharges to water so compliance activities can be focused on them and the fixing of discharges which contribute to water pollution.
All other farms flown over then receive an on the ground visit at an appointed time to help ensure their effluent systems can comply with rules all year round, especially during winter’s wetter weather. Farmers have been advised about effluent system design companies for help if they need to make effluent system improvements.