Multi-agency project announced to avoid similar environmental disasters as Fox River

The Government has announced a new multi-agency project to identify the environmental risks associated with landfills.

In March, severe weather caused havoc on the West Coast when a closed landfill was eroded away and rubbish was strewn across the surrounding environment and washed into Fox River. The clean-up effort took months and required the help of about 1000 volunteers.

In the hope of avoiding a similar environmental disaster, Associate Environmental Minister Eugenie Sage announced a multi-agency project that will examine risks associated with current and closed landfills.

"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," she said on Wednesday.

"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."

Environment and engineering company Tonkin + Taylor will begin gathering natural hazard and landfill data from councils later this month. That will help in developing a risk screening and assessment tool to be used in considering the landfills' management.

Sage says the project will help agencies 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," she said.

Work that may come out of the project could include better containment of sites, removal of contents from landfills and more erosion protection.

It's supported by Bill Bayfield, the chief executive of Environment Canterbury.

"This is an issue that needs to be dealt with by local and central government, working with communities, to ensure we understand the risks from existing and legacy landfills and that adequate resources are made available and action taken to deal with."

The response will be led by the Ministry for the Environment and 16 regional councils, in collaboration with Local Government New Zealand and the Department of Conservation.