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Nick Smith

27 January, 2010

Minister calls in Mackenzie Basin dairy discharge consents

Environment Minister Nick Smith today called in three large dairy effluent discharge consents in the Mackenzie Basin and established a board of inquiry to decide on the applications.


"I have called in these discharge consents as they are nationally significant due to their scale, the fragile and iconic nature of the Mackenzie Basin environment, the importance of freshwater quality to the Government and the high level of public interest," Dr Smith said.


"The effluent from these intensive farms is equivalent to a city of 250,000 people and raises quite legitimate questions over the long-term impacts on the water quality in the Mackenzie Basin.


The consent applications from Southdown Holdings Ltd, Williamson Holdings Ltd, and Five Rivers Ltd involve nearly 18,000 cows being housed eight months of the year on farms totalling a land area of 8555 hectares, holding ponds totalling 77 million litres and discharges of 1,743,000 litres of effluent per day.


"This call-in decision has been complicated by the fact that it has had to be considered without the recent amendments to the Resource Management Act. The animal welfare issues fall outside the jurisdiction of the RMA and the associated water take consents cannot be called in as they date back to 2004.


"The Board of Inquiry I have appointed to decide these consents will be chaired by Environment Court Judge Jane Borthwick and includes members Michael Bowden (water engineer), Dr Jim Cooke (scientist), Edward Ellison (Ngai Tahu) and Professor David Hamilton (lake ecologist, Waikato University). I have deliberately chosen board members with first-class expertise on water quality issues and three who are also serving as commissioners on related water take consents to ensure appropriate continuity of the decision making process.


"This call-in decision reflects the Government's policy of providing stronger national leadership on resource management and water quality issues. This process will enable the most robust decision possible for these contentious consents."



Biographies of Board of Inquiry members

Judge Borthwick is based in the Environment Court at Christchurch. Judge Borthwick was appointed an Environment Judge in November 2008.  She has considerable experience in applications for water takes in the Canterbury region.


Edward Ellison has extensive experience on boards, in resource consent hearings and in the area within which the consents have been applied for. He is of Ngai Tahu and Te Atiawa descent and has wide ranging knowledge and skill in tikanga Maori. In addition, Mr Ellison is a certified commissioner through the Making Good Decisions course and a Board member of the QEII trust.


Michael Bowden is a registered professional engineer (since 1975) including specialising in the investigation of both surface and ground water resources, design and maintenance of public water supply and sewage systems. He was chief executive of the Canterbury Regional Council from 1990 to 1996. Mr Bowden has acted as a commissioner to hear and decide resource consents on behalf of a number of South Island Councils and is a certified commissioner, having completed the Making Good Decisions course.


Dr James Cooke has more than 30 years experience in environmental sciences, specialising in water quality issues, nutrient cycling in agricultural and aquatic systems, and diffuse source pollution. Dr Cooke spent a significant part of his career at NIWA before becoming a Director at Diffuse Sources Limited.


Professor David Hamilton is a lake ecologist with 19 years experience. He is a member of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Waikato. He holds the Professorial Chair in Lakes Management and Restoration supported by Environment Bay of Plenty. He specialises in ecosystem modelling and dynamics of nutrients and algae. He has the relevant expertise in lake management and restoration, land-water interactions and climate change effects on aquatic systems.


Questions & Answers


•1.    Does this call in take into account the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009?


No. The applications for resource consents were lodged with the relevant councils by the applicants prior to the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 coming into force on 1 October 2009. Section 160 of the 2009 Amendment Act clearly states that it does not apply to consents lodged prior to its commencement.


•2.    Why are these proposals being called in?


Having had regard to all of the relevant factors pursuant to section 141B(1) of the Resource Management Act (1991), the Minister has called in these proposals because he considers them to be nationally significant. The reasons for calling in these proposals are:



  1. The matter has aroused widespread public concern or interest regarding its actual or likely effect on the environment, including the global environment. 4852 submissions were lodged on the applications, with all (but a hand-full) opposing the applications.
  2. The matter affects or is likely to affect any structure, feature, place or area of national significance. The water bodies of the Upper Waitaki catchment are regarded as being of national significance by the Department of Conservation. The basin is a nationally significant habitat for indigenous freshwater fish, and river-bed/ wet-land birds (some of which are particularly vulnerable having the highest possible threat rating). The Ahuriri River has had a Water Conservation Order on it since 1990.
  3. The matter involves or is likely to involve technology, processes, or methods, which are new to New Zealand and which may affect the environment. The nature and size/ scale of these proposals for under-cover dairy farming are new to the dairy industry in New Zealand.

•3.    What are the specific consents that are being called in?


Five Rivers Limited applications for resource consents from Environment Canterbury for activities associated with dairy farms at Ohau Downs, Lake Ohau Road, Omarama, as follows:



  • CRC100787 - a discharge permit to discharge solid effluent onto land and up to 875,000 litres per day of diluted dairy effluent onto land.
  • CRC100788 -  a land use consent to store dairy effluent in ponds.
  • CRC100824 - a land use consent for a stockholding pad (the cubicle stables).
  • CRC100827 - a land use consent to excavate land to create effluent storage ponds.
  • CRC101540 - a discharge permit to discharge contaminants to air from the storage of animal effluent in ponds and the housing of cows in cubicle stables.

Southdown Holdings Limited applications for resource consent from Environment Canterbury for activities associated with dairy farms at Glen Eyre Downs, Quailburn Road, Omarama, as follows:



  • CRC100224 - a discharge permit to discharge solid effluent onto land and up to 560,000 litres per day of diluted dairy effluent onto land.
  • CRC100480 -  a land use consent to store dairy effluent in ponds.
  • CRC100481 - a land use consent for a stockholding pad (the cubicle stables).
  • CRC100482 - a land use consent to excavate land to create effluent storage ponds.
  • CRC101542 - a discharge permit to discharge contaminants to air from the storage of animal effluent in ponds and the housing of cows in cubicle stables.

Williamson Holdings Limited applications for resource consent from Environment Canterbury for activities associated with dairy farms at Killermont Station, as follows:



  • CRC100227 - a discharge permit to discharge solid effluent to land and up to 308,000 litres per day of diluted dairy effluent onto land.
  • CRC100475 -  a land use consent to store dairy effluent in ponds.
  • CRC100478 - a land use consent for a stockholding pad (the cubicle stables).
  • CRC100479 - a land use consent to excavate land to create effluent storage ponds.
  • CRC101541 - a discharge permit to discharge contaminants to air from the storage of animal effluent in ponds and the housing of cows in cubicle stables.

•4.    What is a Board of Inquiry and how does it work?


A Board of Inquiry must be chaired by a current, former or retired Environment Court judge. It can have a total of three to five members.


The Board of Inquiry decides whether to commission any reports it requires where it considers additional information on the proposals is necessary for it to make a decisions.  The board will also establish the process for hearing public submissions on the Mackenzie dairying proposal.


Under section 141A of the Resource Management Act, the Minister can call in a proposal of national significance by directing that the matter is referred to either:



  • A board of inquiry; or


  • The Environment Court

This means that the matter is decided by either of these two bodies instead of the relevant district, city or regional councils.


•5.    Why does the Minister favour a Board of Inquiry over an Environment Court direct referral?


The Board of Inquiry process has the advantage of being more informal that the Environment Court which better enables input and participation by the general public without the cost of legal representation.


The Board of Inquiry process enables the Minister to complement the judicial skills of the Court with technical skills around the critical issues of water quality. It also enables the appointment of commissioners involved in the water take consents to also serve on the Board.


•6.    Will the decision to call-in require re-advertising?


Yes, the process will require re-advertising the application. All submissions already lodged on the applications for resource consent will be considered and do not need to be resubmitted.


•7.    Did the Minister consult relevant parties on his decision to make a call in? 


Yes. The Ministry for the Environment on behalf of the Minister sought the views of Environment Canterbury and the applicants as to the option of calling in the applications. He also received a letter from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment recommending the discharge consents be called-in. He also consulted with Cabinet colleagues and sought advice from the Ministry prior to making a decision.


•8.    Why did the Minister not call-in the water take and building consents so all issues could be considered together? 


Waitaki District Council has already issued land use consents for the intensive farming. Environment Canterbury has already begun hearings on the water takes. These could not be called-in to allow the projects to be considered as a whole. The Minister has appointed three of the commissioners hearing the water take consents to Board of Inquiry to ensure some continuity.


•9.    How long does a Board of inquiry have to reach a decision? 


Because the resource consent applications were lodged before the 2009 amendments to the Resource Management Act came into force, the current nine-month timeframe for a Board of Inquiry to reach a decision does not apply. The duration of the hearing will depend on the number and nature of submissions.


Following the hearing, the Board of Inquiry will issue a draft decision. Councils, submitters, the applicant and the Minister then have an opportunity to comment before the Board makes its final decision.


•10. How can people have a say in this process?


Once the Minister has formally called in and publicly notified the proposals, any person may make a submission about the proposals. The closing date for submissions is 20 working days after public notification of the proposals.


People who have already made submissions through the Environment Canterbury process do not need to make submissions under this process.  Their submissions will still be considered by the board.


The Board of Inquiry will receive the written submissions and also hold public hearings to listen to the submitters who indicate they wish to speak at the hearing.  The hearing is not intended to be overly formal but there is the ability for expert witnesses to be cross examined during proceedings.


•11.  What about animal welfare issues?


Animal welfare matters are dealt with under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 rather than the Resource Management Act 1991. As such, the Board of Inquiry is unable to consider animal welfare issues as part of its decision-making process. The Animal Welfare Act is administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.


The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee will shortly issue the Animal Welfare (Dairy Cattle) Code of Welfare. The code establishes the minimum standards for the welfare of dairy cattle, including provisions relating to housing.

  • Nick Smith
  • Environment