Wellington Scoop

Toxic sludge on Houghton Bay beach – but no plans to stop runoff from old tip

Photo from RNZ

Report from RNZ
Toxic sludge has again poured onto a beach on Wellington’s south coast, with no plans to permanently stop it. The runoff comes from an old tip under the suburb of Houghton Bay which closed decades ago.

Since then periodically after heavy rain, it overwhelms the wastewater system and spews out onto Houghton Bay beach – and residents and local councillors are sick of it.

Houghton Valley resident Anj Barton said the recurring smell in the valley from the old dump reminded her of the stench of roadworks – old rubber tyres, tar and diesel.

“A lot of people walk their dogs on the beach as well. So … people are smelling and breathing these fumes in which is pretty awful to be honest.”

The toxic substance causing the smell called “leachate” is runoff from the old dump, with crews out last night cleaning it up.

When the wastewater system is running smoothly, leachate is diverted to a treatment plant, but a couple of times a year – at random – it overwhelms the system and discharges onto the beach.

It is not known what triggers the runoff overflow, given yesterday’s rain was nothing on the heavy fall of last week.

Tests in 2013 showed the substance has low toxicity and its effect on the environment is minor – but it is not known what was thrown into the tip all those decades ago, so it is possible the toxicity could increase over time.

Wellington councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, who holds the health portfolio, said locals were fed up and deserved better. “Residents sick and tired of this happening, surfers are sick and tired of this happening, and this community really deserves transparent answers about why it’s happening.”

Fellow councillor and Houghton Valley representative Teri O’Neill is pointing the finger squarely at Wellington Water, saying once again the organisation’s mitigation strategy to stop the contamination had failed.

“When we have high water pressure that’s supposed to trigger an alert to Wellington Water. This is exactly what we pay them to do and obviously something’s not worked here today and that’s what we’re pretty disappointed about.” She said there were no large scale remediation plans to stop it the problem.

“If we were to say that no runoff could ever come from the landfill that would probably [require] ripping up an entire community given how much of Wellington homes and infrastructure are built on the top of landfills.”

Wellington Water stormwater adviser Ben Fountain said it was an issue that had been brewing for a generation and would required everyone working together for a permanent solution.

“This is certainly one that we need to be thinking about a longer term solution but it’s going to take some time to develop and we’ll have to involve a number of parties including Wellington City Council and … the local community as well.”

In the meantime, officials say people should avoid the beach for a couple of days.


  1. jamie, 20. November 2020, 7:18

    Hi Fleur and Teri, no good pointing fingers and laying blame. You’ve been elected to the council and you have a responsibility to resolve the issue. Get on with fixing them and too bad if it costs too much. You don’t want to be the ones who are sued for health issues and loss of value of properties.
    Axe the white elephant convention center.
    You cant just keep blaming Wellington Water – they are owned by the councils and probably have been constrained on the amount of investment that councils have committed. Enough is enough.

  2. Christine Swift, 22. November 2020, 8:43

    Teri is not the councillor for Houghton Valley. The other councillor is Laurie Foon. Houghton Valley is in Wellington’s southern ward, not the eastern ward.