How’s your dairy effluent pump?

As we go into spring and dairy farmers empty their effluent ponds as part of their annual maintenance, Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) says it’s time for dairy farmers to pay special attention to pumps and pipes.

EPA North East Regional Manager Renee Palmer says EPA officers around the state find too many broken sump pumps and leaky pipelines during farm inspections.

“Both the Environment Protection Act 1970 and common sense require that dairy effluent stays on the farm and out of channels, creeks and rivers. It is a valuable fertiliser, but can be a damaging pollutant,” Ms Palmer said.

“An overflowing pond can send nutrients into waterways, reducing oxygen levels, killing aquatic life, encouraging toxic algae and creating the danger of disease,” she said.

“Dairy farmers can prevent effluent ponds from overflowing by irrigating the liquid component to pasture when the weather is right, de-sludging ponds, removing vegetation from tops of ponds and keeping pumps and pipes in good working order.”

“Properly utilised as a fertiliser, dairy effluent can increase pasture production, so good dairy effluent management is a win for the farm as a business, and for the environment.”

Problems with dairy effluent management are too common. EPA officers who inspected 25 Gippsland dairy farms for effluent runoff in 2018, issued nine Pollution Abatement Notices (PANs), five fines and three official warnings.

PANs are legally enforceable instructions requiring maintenance or repairs to solve pollution problems by a set deadline, and the fine for non-compliance can go as high as $8,060.

“The fine isn’t the only liability, the neighbours won’t be happy if you set off an algal bloom in the water they are using for stock and irrigation,” Ms Palmer said.

EPA officers can follow an effluent spill back to its source. They will also monitor progress on the work required by any Pollution Abatement Notice to make sure the job is done, to protect the local environment and neighbouring farms.

“EPA will issue fines for non-compliance where necessary, but also supports farmers by providing advice and technical support.”

In providing advice and technical support, EPA works alongside Agriculture Victoria and Dairy Australia to provide practical advice and resources.

Guidelines on effective effluent management on dairy farms can be found by visiting

www.epa.vic.gov.au/business-and-industry/guidelines/water-guidance/dairy-farms-and-water

EPA urges people to report suspected pollution to the EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) or at www.epa.vic.gov.au

Other information:

Agriculture Victoria and Dairy Australia have a range of tools that can assist farmers.

Agriculture Victoria’s local Dairy Extension Officer can provide a free effluent use planning service and a health check of current effluent systems, including providing advice on the best use of the valuable nutrients and review of the storage capacity of your ponds based on cow numbers, water use in the dairy and rainfall. Alternatively, if a dairy farm requires significant upgrades of their effluent system or they are proposing to develop new infrastructure like a new dairy, pond or feedpad then Agriculture Victoria will refer farmers to an accredited Effluent System Designer. The full list can be found at: http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/dairy/managing-effluent/effluent-system-designers

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