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Significant non-compliance still affects Otago’s wastewater treatment plants.
Several Otago regional councillors yesterday questioned whether the Otago Regional Council was harder on those who polluted waterways if they were dairy farmers than polluters that were district or city councils.
Council staff pushed back at the suggestion at yesterday’s regulatory committee, saying that was not the case.
But ORC audit results reported yesterday showed 29% of wastewater treatment plant consents were significantly non-compliant in 2021, although the figures were down from 47% last year.
Yet moderate compliance increased (up to 37% in 2021 from 28% the year before) and full compliance remained at about the 15% mark.
Cr Bryan Scott was among those who raised the possibility of a double standard, given how much focus was placed on the rural sector to "up their game".
"I’m upset by these non-compliances.
"It’s not a good look," he said.
"The Three Waters politicians would be rubbing their hands with glee."
Cr Gary Kelliher said the current climate allowed for "hating" on farmers.
He questioned whether the effects on the environment of the various wastewater treatment plants’ non-compliance was measured.
When staff tried to reassure councillors that district or city councils were being held to the same standard as dairy farmers, Cr Michael Deaker said farmers would remain unconvinced.
Dairy farmers would be "seething" if they heard the conversation around the council table yesterday, Cr Deaker said.
Regulatory general manager Richard Saunders said he agreed that a high level of non-compliance was not a good look.
The compliance issues councils were dealing with were "highly complex" and took time to modify.
The compliance issues the ORC was now dealing with were not at the level of the Clutha District Council non-compliance that led to that council being prosecuted and ordered to pay fines of almost $490,000 last year.
While the ORC itself was not measuring the effect of the various wastewater treatment plants’ non-compliances on the environment, the data was there for the assessment to be made, Mr Saunders said.
What councillors should see from the report was the consistency being applied, he said.
Dairy farmers, industrial consent holders, or a territorial local authority (TLA) would be treated in exactly the same way.
"There’s absolutely no way that the approach being taken to the TLAs differs [from] ... anybody else," Mr Saunders said.
The staff report to the committee yesterday said Clutha, Central Otago, Queenstown Lakes, and Waitaki district councils and the Dunedin City Council all had issues with significant non-compliance from April last year to November.
Formal enforcement action was taken on all councils except the DCC, the report said.