Environmental Impact Assessment: Understanding the Process

Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are fundamental to any major development or public works initiative. Before a city lays new roads, or a company breaks ground on a new facility, the scope of the project’s potential environmental impact must be calculated. This is particularly true for projects with direct, specific relationships to the local environment, including municipal wastewater treatment (WWT) facilities. The goal of an EIA is to mitigate any lasting negative effects on the local ecosystem.

A closer look at EIAs

As the name implies, an environmental impact assessment measures the potential ecological impact of human developments. The Environmental Protection Agency formally defines an EIA as: “the process of examining the anticipated environmental effects of a proposed project — from consideration of environmental aspects at design stage, through consultation and preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR), evaluation of the EIAR by a competent authority, the subsequent decision as to whether the project should be permitted to proceed, encompassing public response to that decision.”

The EIA process is designed to minimize any lasting environmental effects by identifying and quantifying them. In other words: How will this affect the environment, and what can be done to mitigate harm?

The seven-step EIA process

An EIA demands a significant amount of work. Because it’s critical to consider the potential effects of a project from all angles, the EIA process is exhaustive. It can be broken down into seven steps, which in the case of most wastewater treatment projects, play out over the course of several weeks.

What follows is a surface overview of each critical step in the EIA process:

  1. Screening. This step occurs before the actual EIA begins. Screening involves looking at the proposed project’s scope to determine if it requires a full EIA — and, if not, which aspects require assessment.
  2. Scoping. This step establishes the parameters of the EIA. What environmental factors will the study measure, and how are they relevant to the project? What expertise does the EIA require? What viable solutions exist to address environmental concerns? Scoping sets expectations for how an EIA will progress.
  3. Assessment. This is the most comprehensive part of the EIA. It specifically measures the effects of likely environmental impact and provides a detailed elaboration of any long-term ramifications. This stage also accounts for any mitigation opportunities and factors them into the assessment.
  4. Management. At this stage, the assessor collaborates with developers to address any potential concerns identified in the assessment and implement mitigation efforts. EIA management is all about applying data to ensure better outcomes for the environment.
  5. Reporting. This is the penultimate step in the physical EIA process and involves the writing and publishing of a detailed report, which includes a nontechnical summary for developers and planners to present the project to public audiences and stakeholders.
  6. Review. During this phase, public and private parties review the report to decide whether the development can proceed as is or requires amendments or alterations. Permitting for projects usually follows EIA approval, and signals the official start of the development phase.
  7. Monitoring. Monitoring ensures the development follows the action plan established in the EIA. This phase continues throughout the development timeline, and beyond, to ensure the project meets EIA expectations and requirements.

Don’t let this simple summary fool you. An environmental impact assessment is thorough, meticulous, and specific, and for wastewater treatment plants, there’s a significant environmental relationship to consider.

EIAs create desirable outcomes

Consider the impact of a WWT plant on the environment: grey water inflows, effluent discharge, biosolid production, and chemical treatment processes. An EIA ensures treatment plants coexist with the environment to improve outcomes for both.

With the EIA process, developers can approach projects with ecological harmony in mind. The EIA creates desirable outcomes by:

  • Predicting significant adverse ecological effects.
  • Screening out environmentally problematic projects.
  • Proposing modifications to reduce environmental impact.
  • Informing potentially affected communities and individuals.
  • Influencing sustainably driven decision-making.

EIA findings must inform an environmentally responsible WWT approach, and they focus on technology and other engineered solutions, which involve capital expenditure and rely on indigenous microbiology. But indigenous microbiology has proven difficult to coax into specific performance for WWT purposes.


EIAs, EIRs, and the EBS-Di

Sophisticated science and innovative technology, such as the EBS-Di custom microbiology and delivery system from EnBiorganic Technologies, improves treatment efficiency, results, and environmental sustainability by replacing indigenous, aerobic microbiology with naturally occurring, soil-derived microbes. This custom, anaerobic microbiology processes wastewater without expensive aeration. And because replacing microbes doesn’t alter any WWT equipment, implementing the EBS-Di does not require an EIA or additional CAPEX or OPEX.

The cost savings created by the EnBiorganic approach begins with an economic impact report (EIR) — not to be confused with the EIA — to survey the specific challenges of each prospective client, whether that’s biosolids processing and disposal, aeration energy input, odor control, FOG buildup, or all of the above. EnBiorganic’s EIR enumerates the savings a WWT facility can expect with our EBS-Di technology. While an EIA disregards cost to focus solely on performance, EnBiorganic’s EIR forms the basis for the EBS-Di’s performance guarantee.

Learn more about the benefits of custom microbiology for efficient, cost effective, environmentally sustainable wastewater treatment at enbiorganic.com.

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