Is it enough to suggest mitigation measures and let things be? Of course not! That will be like asking a kid not to touch the remote and then leaving the kid in the house to go shopping!
The final step of the Environmental Impact Assessment is the longest one, and continues during (constructional phase) and after (operational phase) the completion of the project.
Once the EIA team approves the process and the government gives an Environmental Clearance, the project proponents can go ahead and start the project. They obviously are required to keep in mind the recommendations suggested by the EAC to ensure minimal environmental disturbance. While this goes on, the EAC hangs around and observes the impacts of the project in real-time. They also check the accuracy and the effectiveness of the mitigation measures they suggested, and see if any modifications need to be made.
Monitoring: Keeping up-to-date with the environmental impacts
The purpose of monitoring is to compare pre- and post project conditions in the development site. It also compares the predicted and actual impacts. This is especially important in key impacts like water quality, air quality, soil fertility, endangered species, etc.
Monitoring is also a way to ensure that the development authorities follow the laws and regulations set by the government regarding their project. It keeps the “cutting corners” habit of all development authorities in check.
Accurate baseline data is critical for proper monitoring of the site.
The added bonus of monitoring is that if the EAC had somehow missed a possible impact by the project, that will be identified during the monitoring process. This is quite conceivable. Considering the multitude of effects that a single activity can have, it is quite possible that the team missed a few of the impacts that could be caused.
It also allows the project proponents to alter their activities if they observe considerable environmental damage. Prediction studies are completely theoretical; there is a high chance of error in them. By observing results in real-time, appropriate corrections can be made.
Monitoring can be of different types…
Impact/effect monitoring- This analyses the direct relationship between the environmental impact and the effect it causes. It includes magnitude, extent and intensity.
Baseline monitoring- This is one type of monitoring that is done before the commencement of the project. Baseline monitoring gives us data that is to be included as pre-project status of the site. For example, air quality baseline data monitoring requires the team to monitor the air at all strategic locations on the site for 14 consecutive days prior to the commissioning of the work. This allows them to obtain dust samples every 24 hours.
Mitigation monitoring- This is the monitoring of the effectiveness of the mitigation measures. It assesses all mitigation measures, be it implementation, design, technology, etc.
Compliance monitoring- This is an all-encompassing monitoring method where we assess if the predicted values are in compliance with the actual values. It could include mitigation monitoring and impact/effect monitoring within it.
How do you monitor?
There are many different methods by which we can monitor the area, depending on what is the aspect we are monitoring.
Large-scale features like land use are increasingly monitored using GIS technologies. It is easy, cheap and gives us a variety of information simultaneously. Aspects like air and water quality require sophisticated tools for its monitoring, which are installed at strategic locations in and around the project site. Ground monitoring or ground truthing is probably the best way to monitor impacts, because certain information that may be missed by technologies will not go unmissed by trained experts.
It is needless to say that monitoring needs to be accurate and unbiased. Tampering with data collected will do no one any good. Sure, the developers can avoid a lot of immediate costs, but unsafe environmental practices will come back and bite them in unforseen ways in the long run. Also, there is no prescribed time period for monitoring. It is at the complete discretion of the stakeholders.