The Environmental Defence Society has filed proceedings in the High Court at Timaru, challenging a decision by Waitaki District Council to grant consents for intensive dairy farming in the area.
The council has granted three companies consent for 16 farms, where almost 18,000 cows would be kept indoors all day for eight months of the year, and 12 hours per day for the rest of the year.
The society says the council broke the law by failing to publicly notify the applications for consent to carry out earthworks and build sheds to house cows.
The council has also issued compliance certificates for water-take infrastructure and more than 2000 hectares of crops. Chief executive Michael Ross says the council stands by its decision and will defend its actions in the High Court.
Mr Ross says the farms are allowed under the Waitaki District Plan and the council could have been legally challenged by the applicant companies if it had publicly notified what is actually a permitted activity.
The council's website says the sheds would not be seen from State Highway 8 and the consent conditions include landscaping around each shed.
The Government has set up a board of inquiry to decide the separate applications to discharge effluent.