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Bore breach sees farmer fined $26k

A South Wairarapa dairy farmer has been fined $26,000 after breaching his resource consent for water take from a bore.

John Coveney was found to be uncompliant with his resource consent – issued by Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] – on at least eight separate occasions between January and March 2021.

The man was charged, and found guilty, of contravening the Resource Management Act by taking water, “otherwise than expressly allowed”, when the flow in the Ruakokoputuna River at the nearby Iraia monitoring site fell below 30 litres per second between the hours of 8am and 5pm, which was outside of the consented time.

He was also charged and found to be guilty of contravening an abatement notice during the period of low flow.

The summary of facts said he took the groundwater to irrigate his farm.

Environment Court Judge Prudence Stevens said Coveney is the co-owner of a 29 hectare farm about 50 metres away from the Tūranganui River, and the resource consent holder for the bore.

She said the offending was discovered in August 2020 when a GWRC officer undertook an audit on Coveney’s water take records and “noted repeated non-compliance with conditions”.

The bore water is hydrologically linked to the river.

Stevens said that the offending had been deliberate and happened at one point over a span of eight days: “It was driven by a lax approach to compliance in general,” she said.

“Not even abatement and infringement notices made your approach to [water] take more diligent.”

A GWRC spokesperson said the council chose to lay charges after Coveney’s non-compliant activities continued after the abatement notice was issued.

Stevens said GWRC had submitted that Coveney had admitted to them he had taken water from the bore, while in restriction, when it was overcast or raining – and that he didn’t regularly monitor the council’s website to see when the river flow dropped and the consent conditions would be active.

It is the consent holder’s responsibility to monitor the river flows to ensure they reduce their water take as required.

Stevens said the summary of facts demonstrated a “poor attitude” on Coveney’s part.

Although it was hard to distinguish what cumulative effect the consent breach had on the environment, Stevens said that did not mean that it wasn’t serious.

Coveney and his lawyer argued that the take of water outside of the consent conditions would not lead to adverse effects on the environment – but Stevens rejected that, saying that the offending occurred on a regular basis.

GWRC environment chair Penny Gaylor said taking water outside consented hours impacts the availability of water to other users and the environment.

“In this case, taking water during low summer flow conditions would have immediately reduced flow in the Tūranganui River and potentially impacted a nearby critically endangered podocarp forest with remnants of tawa and titoki.”

Gaylor added that freshwater is a precious resource that must be protected for the benefit of all users as well as the environment.

GWRC environment group manager Lian Butcher said the council “takes no pleasure in pursuing convictions” and only does so as a last resort.

“Mr Coveney has a history of non-compliance since 2012, for which other abatement and infringement notices were issued by the regional council.”

When non-compliance continued, there were very “few options left available to us” other than legal action, Butcher said.

GWRC controls the taking and use of freshwater in accordance with its Proposed Natural Resources Plan.

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