The NSW Environment Protection Authority has fined the Northern Co-Operative Meat Company $15,000 for failing to meet the requirements of a Pollution Reduction Program (PRP).
The PRP requires the abattoir and tannery at Casino in northern New South Wales to achieve sustainable waste water management by December 30, 2018.
The co-op was required to submit a report last December on how it was going to achieve this goal but the EPA deemed it inadequate and has now issued a revised PRP.
The EPA’s Brett Nudd said the report was deficient in a number of areas.
“They included wet weather storage for effluent and also managing saturated areas within the existing irrigation area,” he said.
“[It is] so very important those sorts of issues are managed to prevent ground and surface water impact from the Richmond River Catchment.
“The issue with effluent from abattoirs is that it’s very, very high in nutrient loadings and those nutrient loadings then transfer through groundwater and surface water into the local creeks and rivers and produce things like algal bloom.”
But the co-op’s chief executive officer Simon Stahl said the fine came as a shock as he believed the abattoir was on track to meet the target.
“This is an alleged breach of a PRP, so it’s only an allegation at this time. So we’ll go and seek the appropriate advice. But prima facie we’ll certainly be defending it,” he said.
“The PRP has a target date for completion of programs December 2018, that’s the end date that we’re both working towards.
“In the view of the EPA the reporting and the information that we’ve given them as of 30 December, 2016, doesn’t haven’t enough information for them to be satisfied that we’re going to reach this goal by December 2018.
“In our opinion we are well on track and in our opinion we are covering all the bases.
“There’s no debating — we have to reach a goal by December 2018 so to allege that we’re actually not performing or we haven’t come up to that performance is quite bemusing to us.”
Working Towards Improvements
Despite issuing the hefty fine, the EPA believed that the co-op has been genuinely working with the authority to improve its waste water management.
“We’ve had a good constructive relationship over the years and I hope to see that continue into the future,” the EPA’s Brett Nudd said.
“There’s been some major upgrades to the existing systems and expansion of the irrigation areas, all of which are quite positive. But there are some discreet areas that we do feel that there needs be greater attention paid to and a better outcome very clearly delivered around those.”
Mr Stahl said that the co-operative has spent $10 million in the last three to four years on improvements.
“For example we now crop over 200 acres pulling off thousands of bales, which is tonnes of nitrogen a year, into plant and recycling that water through irrigation,” he said.
“Not only that but we’ve spent $7 million on improvements to the water treatment and upgrade at the tannery.”
Mr Stahl said the board had approved $5 million for the next 12 months to help the co-op reach the 2018 target.
“We’ve given to the EPA a new technology that we’re going to be implementing, and we’re going through the drafting proposal now of this new technology that will take us one step further to the December 2018 deadline,” he said.
“We’re working with the EPA but it just feels like splitting hairs to say ‘You know this far out we think you’re going to fail, we think you’re in breach so here, here’s a little tickle-up to get you going’, which in our view is totally unnecessary.”
No Quick Fix
The co-operative treats 3–4 million litres of waste water per day with all of that irrigated on farmland.
“The function of sustainable irrigation is the amount of organic matter in the waste water, so nitrogen, ensuring that it doesn’t get into the sub soil,” Mr Stahl said.
“So we’re very confident with the modelling, we’ve provided the MEDLI [Model for Effluent Disposal using Land Irrigation] modelling that says based on our target nutrient levels out of the plant, and we’ve got to invest in some more technology, based then on the available land for cropping we will be sustainable by December 2018.”
Mr Nudd said those upgrades will take time and money.
“These sorts of upgrades typically involve major infrastructure investment and some investment in terms of irrigation systems and management systems, so there can be very long lead times in getting those sorts of systems up and running,” he said.
“That’s why it’s critical to have a clear understanding now about what the fundamental components of what the plan are and how they’ll be enacted in order to meet that date in 2018.”
The Northern Co-operative Meat Company has 28 days to respond to the penalty notice issued by the EPA.