NAVIGATING THROUGH EIA
IMPROVING MAPS & SPATIAL REPRESENTATION IN EIA
EIA is a public process, and the reports generated during this process are meant to be read and understood by a wide range of interested and affected parties. Maps, plans and other means of spatial representation of the proposed project are essential in communicating the project description and potential environmental impacts. Spatial information enables the reviewer (reader) to capture the essence of the EIA report.
The absence of accurate maps, plans and other spatial information can seriously compromise the public consultation process and thus the entire EIA process. Spatial information is crucial to the project description and impact assessment components of the EIA.
An important principle of spatial representation is that there must be a proper and accurate representation of the proposed development, the existing environment and potential impacts.
A proper spatial representation of the proposed project and receiving environment tends to reflect on the professionalism of the Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP).
However, a less than adequate spatial representation of the factual and scientific information will more than likely make the reviewer more suspicious of the independence, integrity and capability of the EAP.
An ideal layout map used in the EIA process should as a minimum reflect the following attributes:
an accurate spatial representation of the proposed development or activity (and all phases) and supporting infrastructure, drawn to scale
in the case of industrial or other type of process-orientated projects, the maps or plans should show details of the proposed facility and its process, even by means of a flow diagram or other similar diagram
a locality map in order to show the location of the site from a regional perspective
a recent colour orthophoto (aerial photograph) at an appropriate scale with the proposed development superimposed indicating the spatial footprint of the development.
in the case of a linear activity or project, the map should indicate the entire proposed alignment or alignment corridor
details of access routes to the proposed project site e.g. Access road, rail link, aircraft landing strip etc.
environmental attributes of the receiving and surrounding environment or study area:
sensitive receptors e.g. schools, hospitals, old-age homes, residential areas
existing infrastructure e.g. roads, railways, landfill sites, bulk sewerage infrastructure
major hazardous installations such as oil and gas pipelines and related facilities
1:100 year floodlines
water course and water resources - both surface and groundwater resources such as rivers, aquifers, wetlands, dams etc.
notable natural ecosystems or habitats such as forests, grasslands, estuaries and any protected natural environments (protected areas)
important historical, archaeological, cultural and heritage sites
existing sources of air, water and land pollution
Environmentally sensitive areas and/or areas of contention or public concern within a particular project should be represented in greater detail on maps.
VALUE OF MAPS & OTHER SPATIAL DATA
If maps are able to clearly and accurately represent the interaction of the proposed development with the existing or receiving environment, they can add much more credibility and value to the EIA process by aiding in the following:
facilitating public, stakeholder and authority input
facilitating accurate and quicker review of environmental reports by authorities, the public and other stakeholders (interested and affected parties).
WHERE TO ACCESS MAPS & OTHER SPATIAL DATA
The development planning departments of most local authorities/municipalities have Geographical Information System (GIS) databases, which can be accessed or purchased for use in EIA’s.
Commercially available spatial data .
Google Earth – the downloadable free version or the commercially available version.
THE VALUE OF GIS IN EIA
Within recent years the application of GIS technology to the EIA process has steadily increased. 1
The use of GIS is equally important in the review as well as the conducting of environmental impact assessments.
Examples of GIS usage in EIA (after Atkinson & Canter, 2011)
for pre-project and post-project “model” applications;
as a communication tool (for the EIA study team, project proponent, stakeholder groups, the general public, and decision makers);
to demonstrate siting opportunities or constraints (inclusive or exclusive); such siting could involve sanitary landfills, gas pipelines, road alignments, etc.;
for scenario building and testing (to answer “what if” questions relative to project size and features, and for accident analysis);
to display environmental system relationships (for example, the acidity of rain and watershed consequences, or ground water/surface water relationships);
for modeling of species distribution/diversity and related influencing factors such as habitat characteristics;
to analyze the contribution of diffuse sources or pollution (nonpoint sources) to receiving streams and lakes;
to develop watershed management strategies based on problem assessment and prioritization;
to explore human health risks (relative risks) in terms of where people live;
to analyze disease vectors and prioritize controls;
to display visual impacts on viewsheds;
to explore risk management options;
as an aid in defining spatial and temporal boundaries for the impact study; and
to display time snapshots of discrete or continuous events (the historical and future timelines).
Atkinson S. F. & Canter L.W. (2011). Assessing the cumulative effects of projects using geographic information systems. Environmental Impact Assessment Review (2011) 31: 457–464