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New Zealand government and councils collaborate to address landfill issues

The New Zealand government and 16 regional councils are leading a project that will identify the risks associated with current and closed landfills in the country.

The councils and the Ministry for the Environment will work in collaboration with Local Government New Zealand and the Department of Conservation to address issues associated with landfills as “a matter of urgency”, Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage said on September 11.

“The extreme storm event in March, which led to the exposure and erosion of a closed council landfill at Fox River, was a wake-up call.

“It highlighted the importance of knowing where closed landfills are, their vulnerabilities and how to reduce their exposure to natural hazards and potential impacts from a changing climate,” Sage said.

The Ministry for the Environment is funding the initial phase of this work. Environment and engineering company Tonkin + Taylor have been contracted to start the project in mid-September.

They will gather natural hazard and landfill data from councils across New Zealand, and then develop a risk screening and assessment tool which can be used nationally.

“This work will also provide some valuable information to the National Climate Change Risk Assessment. It is undertaking a national overview of the risks New Zealand faces from climate change, with work beginning later this year,” Sage said.

“Central government, councils and communities need to work together to ensure the right adaptation policies and plans are in place for risks to landfills.

“This project, which involves key agencies from local and central government, will help us to understand what needs to be done to avoid another Fox River. We know there is an issue. Understanding its extent and severity and options is better than waiting for storm events and rising seas to cause significant and expensive problems for local councils, communities and nature.”

Bill Bayfield, chief executive of Environment Canterbury, on behalf of the regional local government sector, said it is an issue that needs to be dealt with by local and central government, working with communities.

He said the risks from existing and legacy landfills need to be understood and adequate resources need to be made available and action taken to deal with these issues.

“The erosion in March of a closed landfill by a river in Westland showed just how much legacy landfills can become a threat to communities and the environment as the effects of climate change become more pronounced.

“What we should end up with as a result of the project is a risk-screening model and methodology that can be used across New Zealand, taking into account the different types of data at individual sites,” Sage said.

Work to reduce the risk from vulnerable landfills could include protection from erosion, better containment of the site, or even removal of the contents of the landfill.