Thursday, February 05, 2009

Filthy farmers II

Last year, Campbell Live caught Wairarapa farmer Gary Riddell running an illegal dump in a stream flowing into the Pahaoa river near Martinborough. Now, they've caught him again - this time grazing his cattle in a river:

In South Wairarapa, animals have been using a river as a loo. Over a 25km stretch they graze along the Pahaoa River, and if they need to empty their bowels whilst standing in the water, that is exactly what they do.

The farmer is Gary Riddell. His wife is a district councillor. And they have featured on Campbell Live before for polluting exactly the same river.

Federated Farmers says having animals grazing in the river is no longer acceptable, and locals feel even stronger about it – some suggesting Mr Riddell has deliberately fenced the animals in, forcing them to graze on the river.

The result is what you'd expect: shit in the river, and a massive decline in aquatic life. And it seems to be illegal - the Greater Wellington Regional Council has ordered Riddell twice to move them. But he doesn't seem to care - after all, he's making money.

And that is the heart of the problem: farmers will continue to pollute as long as it is profitable for them to do so. The answer is for regional councils to make it unprofitable, by prosecuting polluters to the full extent of the law. The RMA imposes strict liability and allows for up to two years imprisonment or a fine of up to $200,000 + $10,000 a day for discharging contaminants into waterways. And in an egregious case like this, that looks appropriate. Unfortunately, councils have been generally reluctant to press charges even in egregious cases. And that reluctance is a large part of why polluters like Gary Riddell continue to behave as they do.