An EIA team must thoroughly understand the project being assessed so as to correctly predict impacts and to identify alternatives and mitigation measures. This means developing a comprehensive project description use by the team. The project description published in the EIA document will be a condensed version of this internal document.
The actions that are part of a project are what cause impacts to occur. Consequently, the failure to obtain a thorough project description commonly results in an incomplete EIA analysis. Post-EIS audits often show that actual impacts differed from those predicted because the project description did not fully characterize an important causal action.
The following illustrate aspects of developing a thorough project description.
- Project sponsors seldom know enough about EIA to know what information the EIA team needs. Moreover it is often the case that the sponsor is apprehensive about the EIA process and not inclined to reveal anything that is not essential, especially if it might be controversial or proprietary. This means the EIA team cannot simply accept the information the sponsor provides, but must make it a point to aggressively dig into the project details, and include time and budget for this activity in the project scope.
- Success in understanding a project tends to reflect the experience and common sense of the EIA team; if the team is not experienced, networking is highly recommended. A search should be made for guidance documents, which exist for many project types.
- It is always good practice for team members to study existing projects that use similar technologies or are in similar settings to learn more about what is important to prediction of actual impacts.
- The team should understand who owns the project, who will build it, who will operate it, and especially who is in charge of mitigation and monitoring. These entities are sources of project information.
- The most basic questions identify and quantify the flow of energy and materials into and out of a project. Flow charts and a mass balance are important tools.
- Important maps are: 1) project layout showing where resources come into a site, are stored, are used and/or where wastes are generated, stored or discharged; 2) ecological regions for the project and ancillary facilities, to provide an environmental context for the project; 3) locations of temporary or permanent changes to the physical setting.
- A schedule for project planning, construction, operation and closure is always needed. Seasonal, weekly/weekend and diurnal aspects of schedule should be identified.
Special thanks to Lee Wilson for providing initial content for this IAIA Wiki topic.