ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT.
This project is designed to give you a field experience that will expose you to scientific principles of field work in environmental analysis and other activities related to the preparation of an environmental impact statement. Follow the guidelines and prepare an environmental impact statement for the site to be visited later.
Why Environmental Impact Studies?
Population growth, rising expectations and technological changes have created serious environmental problems. Today, our society faces an increasing dilemma of balancing the goals of maximizing our well-being through resource use while minimizing serious health and environmental abuses. In order to try to balance these two goals, we must know the effects of proposed actions or projects and the level of risk acceptance to the public. Judging the acceptable risk is difficult because of lack of information and because the decision is ultimately a value judgment. Faced with a balancing dilemma caused in part by a lack of definitive information, the Federal government, followed by many state and local governments, has turned to the preparation of Environmental Impact Assessments to try to answer some of the information-related questions.
What is an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)?
When we refer to 'environmental impact', what comes to mind will differ depending on one's view of 'the environment' and the components of the environment that one values. Environmental impact assessments measure or estimate impacts on one or more environmental indicators (air, water, soil, land, sound etc., qualities). Many groups are concerned with assessing the degree to which various components of the environment are changing. However, different groups may have a particular interest in particular components of the environment, and little interest in others.
Environment Impact Statement (EIS)
Environmental impact assessment is undertaken to ensure that major projects or programs undergo comprehensive review before they are implemented or constructed. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) therefore provides information that enable people to make informed decisions and better balance public and private interest goals and environmental concerns. The EIS process can help decision makers to identify actions that are likely to degrade environmental quality. The review entails an assessment of the environmental, economic, and social impacts of projects or programs as well as a consideration of alternative proposals that would mitigate the environmental damage as well as meet concerns for human well-being.
Who must prepare an EIS?
The Federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which became effective on January 1, 1970, requires all agencies of the Federal government to include in every recommendation of a project detailed statement describing the following:
1. The environmental impact of the proposed action
2. Any adverse environmental effects that would result from the implementation of the project.
3. Alternatives to the proposed action or project
4. The relationship between local short-term uses of the environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity.
5. Any irreversible or irretrievable commitments of resources that would result from the implementation of the project.
NEPA is administered by Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) which can neither request or make changes in an EIS but serves to advise the President on environmental policy and to prepare an annual report on the status and trends of the national environment. Many state and local agencies following the NEPA example have written NEPA-like requirements for all projects.
How is an EIS Reviewed?
All EIS are required to undergo Internal and External Reviews. The Internal review is conducted by the agency proposing the project. It consists of a decision as to whether the proposed action is important enough to warrant a full-blown EIS or lesser document. The process begins when an agency approaches an environmental officer to enquire whether a proposed project will constitute a major action that will have a significant impact on the environment. The officer may go outside his agency to other agencies with the expertise in the field of activity for comments.
External review of the EIS occurs outside the agency proposing the project. The public or an appointed agency may do it. At the end of the review process, the public or environmental agency may accept or reject the original proposal for the project.
How Do You Prepare and EIS?
An environmental impact statement should enable agencies or individuals reviewing the document to make a complete and balanced assessment of the potential impacts of the project being considered. It should be written in a way that regardless of the technicalities, an educated lay person should be able to understand the conclusions and the reasoning that led to the conclusions of an EIS. The method of preparing and the form of EIS vary as widely as the diverse nature of projects. Current guidelines require all EIS to address several generic topics:
1. A description of the proposed activity or project and its purpose
2. Description of the existing environment likely to be significantly affected by the proposed activity and its alternatives (see attached notes for details of components of the environment that may be impacted).
3. A description of reasonable alternatives (for example, locational, engineering, design or technological) to the proposed activity and also the no-action alternative. Choose the No-action and one other alternative and provide reasons for your proposals.
4. A description of the potential environmental impact of the proposed activity and an estimation of the significance of such impacts. Detailed analysis of the probable Impacts of the project.
5. An explicit statement of environmental data used for the assessment and problems encountered during the process.
6. Where appropriate, a non-technical summary including a visual presentation of maps, graphs, etc.
A. Description of the Existing Environment:
The location must be established within the community and the nearest metropolitan areas. A map or series of maps is often required. Proposed activities which are located in or close to an area of special environmental sensitivity or importance (such as wetlands, national parks, nature reserves, sites of special scientific interest, or sites of archaeological, cultural or historical importance); also, proposed activities in locations where the characteristics of proposed development would be likely to have significant effects on the population or resources used by people. Components of the environment that must be described include:
1. Land:- a. Soils
2. Drainage:- a. Surface drainage - rivers, streams
b. Water bodies - ponds, lakes
3. Air:- a. Climate and meteorology, potential air emissions, temperature, precipitation,
prevailing winds etc.
b. Air Quality - sources of air pollution in the area
c. Noise- loud noise is a pollutant
4. Biological Resources
a. Flora and fauna (plants and animals that use the area as a habitat).
b. The type of vegetation should be described and possibly mapped.
5. Human Settlements and physical infrastructure
a. Transportation systems - existing roads, railways etc
b. Public water system in the area
c. Existing Sewer type and Waste Water Treatment System
d. Existing solid waste management system
e. Energy System in use
f. Economic infrastructure - community area employment and unemployment, major commercial activities etc.
g. Socio-Economic Structure - income, racial and ethnic composition, education, and age structure.
h. Aesthetic Environment, and
i. Local Government Structure
B. Description of Alternatives
An outline of alternatives to the proposed project is an important part of the EIS and may include:
a. Status quo: the no-action alternative.
b. Engineering alternative - an alternative based on changes in engineering aspects of the
c. Design alternative - an alternative proposal based on changes in the design of the
original project proposal
d. Locational Alternative - alternative location available that may be owned by the agency
proposing to undertake the project
C. Probable Impacts of the Project
The beneficial and adverse impacts of the project can be determined by comparing the expected future conditions with existing conditions. Each component of the existing environment would have to be compared with the probable environment of the project. This section must not be used to repeat what has been said before. Some guidelines are provided:
a. Probable beneficial impacts - it is important to compare the benefits of the project with what would have happened without the project. The EIS must also state the group of people who are likely to enjoy such benefits along with recipients of adverse impacts. Benefits may accrue to the community, the state, nation or the international community. Adverse effects may be felt by the same entities.
b. Probable Construction period impacts - economic impacts could be substantial, employment for construction employees, construction materials purchased, equipments - all have impacts on the economic base. Each of these activities can have a multiple effect. There could also be adverse impacts such as air pollution from dust, noise from equipments and machinery being used in the construction.
c. Probable short-term impacts - Effects of the project that extend beyond the end of construction but only for a short period of time. Short term impacts may be felt amongst the vegetation, water quality, air quality, erosion due to removal of surface vegetation
d. Probable Long-term effects - The effects of the project 15 years after it has been constructed may be significantly different from its short-term effects. The difference could be positive or negative depending upon the nature of the project. For example, a dam has great short-term impacts but after its construction, the impacts reduce drastically. Projects that bring permanent employment into the community may have positive cumulative impacts but the community’s identity may not survive.
e. Irreversible or Irretrievable damage or commitments - An irreversible use of resources is one where the resources that get used in the construction of the project cannot be fully restored physically. An example would be a prime agricultural land that is strip-mined or used for a housing project. An irretrievable use of resources is one in which some of the resources may physically be available but are not economically retrievable. An example would be physical infrastructure - roads, pipes, water etc., to support the project.
D. Description of Techniques intended to Minimize Adverse Impacts:
Describe the techniques that are available to avoid or minimize adverse impacts of the selected alternative proposal. These are usually construction methods and designs that are widely used although some unique methods may be developed for a specific project. For example, development of previously natural areas causes many water-related problems. The construction process exposes large surface areas to erosion. Paved areas, roofs and other hardened surfaces do not allow precipitation to percolate so that great quantities run off into water courses causing increased erosion, flooding and contamination of water bodies. Some of the techniques used to control erosion problems could be presented here as examples of the techniques suggested for this section.