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All water development projects affect some part of the environment. Smaller projects, such as constructing a weir or operating a water intake pipe, will harm the environment to a lesser degree than, for instance, a large-scale hydroelectric project that diverts or stores large quantities of water, but they have environmental impacts none-the-less.
Under the self-assessment role, federal departments hold themselves accountable for following the assessment process described under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) -- a process requiring all departments to screen proposals for potentially adverse environmental effects and to ensure that public concerns have been considered.
After a site has been chosen for a project, field studies, monitoring, and a literature review will provide an understanding of the existing environmental conditions. This permits prediction of the impacts that the project will have on the environment and is the essence of the Environmental Impact Statement, which is produced for a project under CEAA. Based on these predictions, design engineers working with other professionals such as biologists can mitigate impacts by adjusting the project design; thus, helping to eliminate or reduce a project's potential impact on the environment before it even begins.
In the case of a water development projects like building a dyke, filling a reservoir, or dredging a harbour –- all of which have potentially adverse environmental effects -- these measures might include the construction of fish ladders for migrating fish, the creation of wetland habitat for waterfowl nesting, and the establishment of industrial processes to reclaim pollutants and prevent their entry into the hydrologic cycle. These measures along with their costs are then considered part of the overall project.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) was proclaimed on January 19, 1995.
The act sets out, for the first time in legislation, responsibilities and procedures for the environmental assessment of projects involving the federal government. It establishes a clear and balanced process that brings a degree of certainty to the environmental assessment (EA) process and helps responsible authorities (RAs) determine the environmental effects of projects early in their planning stage.
The act applies to projects for which the federal government holds decision-making authority, whether as a proponent -- when it makes or authorizes funding to enable a project to proceed, when it sells, leases, or disposes of federal lands, or when it issues a permit or license, or grants an approval -- or takes any other action for the purpose of enabling the project to be carried out.
The act has four stated objectives; namely, to:
- ensure that the environmental effects of projects receive careful consideration before RAs take action
- encourage RAs to take actions that promote sustainable development, thereby achieving or maintaining a healthy environment and a healthy economy
- ensure that projects to be carried out in Canada or on federal lands do not cause significant adverse environmental effects outside the jurisdictions in which the projects are carried out
- ensure that there is an opportunity for public participation in the EA process
In general, the following principles should be used in the application of the act:
- Early application. The process should be applied as early in the project's planning stages as practicable and before irrevocable decisions are made so that environmental factors are incorporated into decisions in the same way that economic, social, and policy factors have traditionally been incorporated.
- Accountability. The self-assessment of projects for environmental effects by federal departments and bodies is a cornerstone of the process.
- Efficient and cost effective. Each project should undergo only one EA, and the level of effort required to undertake an EA for the project should match the scale of the project's likely environmental effects.
- Open and participatory. Public participation is an important element of an open and balanced EA process.
To learn more about the purpose and types of environmental assessment, see Basics of Environmental Assessment on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's Web site.
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