C9.2 Environmental assessment
Environmental Assessment (EA) is a tool for anticipating the environmental effects of policy changes and new developments, enabling the incorporation of management or control measures into project and policy design. It is routinely used all around the world to improve the planning of projects and is increasingly being used to examine strategies, policies, plans, and sector programmes, when it is known as Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) or Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). EA is required when projects are likely to have significant effects on the environment.
Criteria for deciding whether IWRM projects should be subject to EA include:
The basic methodology of EA is to study the environment in which a project is planned (the “baseline”), describe the activities that will take place during each phase of a project (i.e. the construction, operation and decommissioning), describe the likely environmental impacts and, where significant adverse impacts are predicted, develop an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) to mitigate them. A program to monitor changes from project impacts in environmental parameters forms part of the EMP.
Impacts of particular importance in many IWRM projects are:
The best results are often reached when EAs of progressive levels of detailing are mainstreamed in the planning, design and implementation process allowing early consideration of alternative schemes and adjustment of project designs at times when most flexibility exists. Once the design and siting of a development are complete, any further mitigation of environmental effects will rely on “end-of-pipe” adjustments or compensation provisions, and these are usually the most costly and the least effective environmental management options.
EA facilitates public consultation by providing a context in which the public can both learn about and express opinions on development proposals and their envisaged effects. People potentially affected by the project can exert influence to reduce adverse impacts, maximise ancillary benefits and ensure that they receive appropriate compensation.
EA allows the consent granting authority to make better decisions, such that environmental (and social) costs and benefits are considered alongside the technical and financial costs and benefits. Conditions that ensure the most efficient use of resources can appropriately be incorporated into the EMP.