Are Golf Courses Negatively Impacting the Environment?

Summer is just around the corner, and for many people that means the beginning of a new season hitting the links! I must admit that like many others, I can’t wait to get out on the golf course and play a round or two. That being said, after last season and entering the MEnv program, I began considering the potential environmental hazards associated with the construction and maintenance of golf courses. Are these beautiful emerald green courses really as green as they appear?

Many areas in North America are becoming more and more fragmented with new golf courses every year. In 2009, Florida alone had 1144 golf courses throughout the state, spanning a total area of just over 860 square kilometers [1]. Many of these courses are located in areas on shore lines or in sensitive ecological areas such as the Florida Everglades, as shown by this map of all the courses in 2009.

Not only are many of these courses situated in sensitive areas, but many of them use fertilizers and pesticides which are not only potentially harmful to ecosystems, but are also potential carcinogens for humans [2]. A 2006 study showed that U.S. golf courses used on average 112% of nitrogen and 187% of potash per acre used to fertilize corn crops [3]. In plain English this means more fertilizer was used per acre on U.S. golf courses than to grow corn. The result of this over use of fertilizers is the potential for eutrophication, adding an unintentional greenness to water bodies around golf courses, as is evident in the following image.

Furthermore, there is significant concern over the sustainability of the approximate use of 300,000 gallons a day of water for maintenance of U.S. golf courses, especially in areas of California which have sunken by more than a foot in 9 years due to aquifer demand [4]. While these concerns are well documented, there is a lack of regulation associated with golf courses. In Canada, many pesticides are banned for cosmetic use on properties, but golf courses have been exempt from the regulations [5]. It seems about time that governments do a better job to recognize the environmental concerns related to golf courses, and consider thresholds for required EIA of golf courses. British Columbia does currently have “golf resorts” built into its EIA legislation, stating that the resort must occupy an area greater than 200 hectares and possess more than 600 commercial bed units [6]. Considering an average 18 hole golf course requires 120-200 acres, the equivalent of about 50 to 80 hectares, not many new courses will require environmental impact assessments [7].

However, many golf course owners have realized the need to promote good environmental management of their courses. Alan Morton, owner of Golf Griffon Des Sources in Mirabel, Quebec, has implemented woodland corridors throughout his course to reduce habitat fragmentation as well as the use of liquid compost treatment to reduce the need for pesticides [5]. Even the great Nick Faldo, who now designs golf courses after a successful PGA career, promotes the notion that “as the world’s natural landscapes become more endangered, our most fundamental job as course designers is to create beautiful playing venues that also preserve and protect the environment” [8]. Golf courses may have the potential to cause environmental degradation, but the golf community also has an opportunity to be a leader in terms of sustainable development. As more courses are inevitably created, they should be designed in an environmentally friendly manner, so that we can keep enjoying the sport for years to come.


[1] Florida Geographic Data Library. (2009). Florida Golf Courses in 2009. Retrieved March 25th 2015, from

[2] Knopper, L., & Lean, D. (2004). Carcinogenic And Genotoxic Potential Of Turf Pesticides Commonly Used On Golf Courses. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 7(4), 267-279.

[3] Environmental Institute for Golf (2006). Golf Course Environmental Profile. Retrieved March 26th 2015, from

[4] Barton, J. (2008). How Green if Golf? Retrieved March 26th 2015, from

[5] Oosthoek, S., (2011). How Golf Courses Are Getting Greener. Retrieved March 26th 2015, from

[6] British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act Reviewable Projects Regulation(2012) Retrieved March 26th 2015, from

[7] American Society of Golf Architects. (n.d.) FAQ: How much land do I need to build a golf course? Retrieved March 27th 2015, from

[8] Nick Faldo Design. (n.d.). Sustainability. Retrieved March 27th 2015, from

Sustainability: What’s that supposed to mean?

The Importance of Water

Humankind is entirely dependent on water, including for energy. “Water and energy are strongly interlinked: water is required to produce, transport and use all forms of energy to some degree” (UNESCO, 2014, p.12).

Created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Water Development Report (WWDR) ranked Canada among the richest countries in the world for water (UNESCO, 2014). However, this allows for an energy policy that further permits the production of Canadian oil-sands in Alberta, resulting in large amounts of carbon emissions and water use, a policy of which is unsustainable. See the video below for a short explanation of the Alberta oil sands production process.


According to Environment Canada (2014), sustainability is “about improving the standard of living by protecting human health, conserving the environment, using resources efficiently…It requires the integration of environmental, economic and social priorities into policies and programs and requires action at all levels – citizens, industry, and governments.” It follows that “using resources efficiently” and “action” from citizens are important parts of energy policy development. If this is what is meant by sustainability, though, I have problems understanding the relevance of its emphasis throughout Government documents.

The democratic process ceases to exist at the policy level, for example, in Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) sees SEA as a method to evaluate Canadian Energy Policies (CEAA, 2014). According to the CEAA (2014), there are no SEAs that exist at this time nor have there ever been any, regarding Canada’s energy policy. This is not sustainable, since incorporating citizen action at the policy level, according to Environment Canada’s own definition of sustainable, is virtually non-existent.

Oil-sands development has some of the most adverse effects. According to David Harvey of the University of Toronto: “Tar sands oil entails 5-60% more greenhouse gas emissions on a life-cycle basis than conventional oil” (ForestEthics, 2013, p.6).

According to the Canadian Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP), in 2012, the Alberta oil-sands operations alone produced 50,285,958.95 tons/CO2eq. Comparatively, the entire province of Quebec produced 17,765,573 tons/CO2eq for the same year. Furthermore, in Canada, it takes about 7-10 M3 of water to produce 1 M3 of Bitumen, the raw oil-sand from Alberta that still requires further processing into crude oil, which itself requires more energy (NRCAN, 2014). This is not sustainable, since it takes about 7-10 times the amount of water to produce 1 unit (barrel, gallon, litre, etc.) of oil. This is not using resources efficiently.

Even a Life-Cycle Assessment shows treatment disparity between conventional energy (fossil fuels), nuclear and renewables (Ecolateral, 2014).

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.44.44 PM

Sustainability is more like “sustainability”. It is clear that Canadian energy policies do not live up to Canada’s own definition of sustainability, not only by erosion of the democratic process but also by way of one of the most inefficient uses of one of the most precious resources in the world: water, on which all of humankind depends. This is compounded by the exponentially increasing amount of carbon entering the atmosphere every day, the air you and I breath. In any sense of the definition, how does this sound sustainable and in light of these facts, how can we truly believe that our Government is handling our resources in the most sustainable fashion?

For more information on the current politics of fossil-fuel development, please visit:!ep2-carbon/clzn


Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. 2014. The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. Accessed on January 8th, 2014. Available from:

Environment Canada, 2014. Facility GHG emissions by province/territory.

Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

Environment Canada, 2014. Sustainable Development. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

ForestEthics Advocacy, 2013. Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Natural Resources Canada, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

Oil Sands Information Portal, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2014. The United Nations World Water Development Report: Water and Energy. (1).

Sacrificing the Environment: Effects of the Canadian Environment Assessment Act 2012 on The Enbridge Pipeline 9B Reversal

By Wills Tobin,

Formerly, Enbridge pipeline 9B sent oil from Montreal, Quebec to Sarnia, Ontario. An approval on March 6, 2014 has allowed Enbridge Pipelines to reverse oil direction and capacity towards Montreal, QC. The National Energy Board’s approval is a fundamental example of the extent to which EIA processes in Canada have eroded because of the Bill C-38 adoption in June 2012. More insight on this:

In bill C-38, The Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012) changed drastically. The Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) facilitated changes in the act through lobbying representatives and members of Government (Forest Ethics, 2013). The EPIC mandate is to “…provide the foundations…for energy and environmental policy”(Forest Ethics, 2013, p. 1). As the conservative Government argued that the CEAA 2012 amendment was simply to streamline and reduce duplication, the effects of legislation have been negatively influential on the line 9B project (EPIC, 2012).

Scoping Line 9B

Due to the CEAA 2012, in the Line 9B reversal, The NEB (National Energy Board) stated that it would not consider environmental or socio-economic effects not directly associated with the reversal of the pipeline (Forest Ethics, 2013; David Suzuki Foundation, 2012; Gage, 2012). This has had a negative effect on the scope of the project. Scoping is critical because its purpose is to identify scientific and public core values so indirect and cumulative impacts are not over-looked, especially when it comes to major oil and gas infrastructure, which should always require comprehensive studies (Noble, 2010).

Monitoring Line 9B

According to Forest Ethics (2013), “once a decision is made for a given project, the NEB will not revoke permits, even if subsequent analyses show adverse environmental effects (p. 7).” The NEB also stated that monitoring should only have to be done at the beginning of the EIA process and not require continued follow-ups (NEB, 2013). The pipeline is 38 years old and it is worrisome that it may rupture if its carrying capacity is increased. There is a fear about pre- and post-, consistent monitoring, as knowledge of bitumen effects on the environment is limited and therefore less capable of being mitigated (CTV News, 2014). See video for more details:

Public Participation Line 9B

Most importantly, public participation now only includes people “directly effected”. (David Suzuki Foundation 2012; Gage 2012; Forest Ethics, 2013) As a result, compared to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (11,111 public participants), Enbridge line 9B only had 172 participants (Forest Ethics, 2013). This legislation has meant the loss of democracy in Canadian EIA. This is most important because participant input as to what is important in EIA has formerly always been taken into consideration. Keep in mind that what constitutes an impact or effect is frequently defined by social value. This diminution of public participation also defeats the purpose of important cornerstones in the development of EIA in Canada, like the signing of the Rio Declaration in 1992, the UN global environmental assessment agreement (UNEP, 1992). The effects of the CEAA 2012 have had repercussions that need to be noticed and hopefully acted upon very soon.


Canadian Environmental Law Association. (2014). Retrieved from:’s-greenhouse-gas-reduction-program-–-carbon-tax.

CBC News. (2014). Enbridge Line 9 pipeline reversal approved by energy board. Retrieved from:

CTV News. (2014). Leonardo DiCaprio visits Alberta oilsands to research documentary. Retrieved from://

David Suzuki Foundation. (2012). Bill C-38: What you need to know. Retrieved from:

Energy Policy Institute of Canada. (2012). A Canadian Energy Strategy Framework: A guide to building Canada’s future as a global energy leader. Retrieved from:

Environment Canada. (2014). Retrieved from:

ForestEthics Advocacy. (2013). Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Gage, A. (2012). Who is silenced under Canada’s new environmental assessment law? West Coast Environmental Law. Retrieved from:’s-new-environmental-assessment-act

Green World Rising. (2014). Retrieved from:!ep2-carbon/clzn

Line 9: It’s coming for you. Retrieved from:

National Energy Board. (2013). Hearing Order OH-002-2013. 2000/90464/90552/92263/790736/890819/918701/918444/A3%2D1_%2D_Hearing_Order_OH%2D002%2D2013_%2D_A3F4W7.pdf?


Natural Resources Canada. (2014). Retrieved from:

Oil Sands Information Portal, (2014). Retrieved from:

Opposing Enbridge’s Line 9. (2014). Retrieved from:

Stewart, K. (2014). Approval of Enbridge Line 9 good for oil companies, not communities: Greenpeace. Toronto. Retrieved from:

UNEP. (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Retrieved From:

Pristine Antarctica: Threatened by science station sewage

by Sara Munčs

Antarctica has long been designated as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”[1]. The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, and its’ Protocol on Environmental Protection from 1991, place strict regulations on the different types of activities that can be conducted in the Antarctic [1, 2]. All activities related to mineral resources are prohibited and directives are given on practice related to flora and fauna, marine pollution and protected areas [1]. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) have to be conducted for all activities in order to judge how they may affect the Antarctic environment and its scientific value [3]. One would think that this treaty has covered all bases in order to keep Antarctica the pristine wilderness that it is. However, recent research has brought to light that the very stations aiming to protect the Antarctic may be polluting it due to their waste management strategies [4].

McMurdo Research Station, Photograph by Norbert Wu, Science Faction/ Corbis , Retrieved from

McMurdo Research Station, Photograph by Norbert Wu, Science Faction/ Corbis [4]

Antarctica is home to about 4000 people occupying 82 research bases in the austral summer months and about 1000 people in the winter [5,6]. The Protocol on Environmental Protection accounts for waste management strategies, but while the regulations for chemical waste as well as disposal of garbage and recycling are quite strict, the standards for sewage are much lower [7]. Water treatment is mandatory for stations of 30 people or more but maceration (breaking up all solid components into small pieces) is the only treatment legally required [6, 7]. Only 37% of the permanent stations and 69% of the summer stations actually treat their waste water [6]. The largest station, the United States’ McMurdo station, has only had maceration treatment facilities since 2003 [5, 8].
The potential for pollution from sewage disposal has been recognized for a number of years. Studies have been conducted at sewage discharge points to determine the extent of damage done to the biodiverse sea floor. The following video briefly explains the research conducted by Kathy Conlan from the Canadian Museum of Nature:

The pollutants released from untreated waste water can be organic, such as human pathogens and other microorganisms [6], but can also be persistent toxic chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), a flame retardant that has been detected in Antarctic environments [5]. One of the big problems in both cases is that the cold Antarctic waters allow the pollutants to remain viable for longer periods of time than in warmer temperatures [4,5,6]. Most recently a new type of flame retardant, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), has been discovered in the sewage sludge released from McMurdo station, in the surrounding environment, and even in the tissue of Adélie penguins [4]. This demonstrates that the pollutants released from the waste water are bioaccumulating up the food chain [4].

Adélie Penguin, Michelle Newnan, National Geographic Your Shot

Adélie Penguin, Michelle Newnan, National Geographic Your Shot [4]

It is clear that regulations regarding the treatment of waste water need to be tightened, however EA could also have a role to play. A cumulative impacts assessment could be of great use to determine the extent of environmental degradation and the main sources of this degradation, so that waste management strategies can be rectified before one of the last pristine environments on the planet is ruined.


[1] Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty (2011) “The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty” Retrieved from < > on March 15th, 2014.
[2] Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty (2011) “The Antarctic Treaty” Retrieved from < >  on March 15th, 2014.
[3] Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty (2011) “Environmental Impact Assessment” Retrieved from <> on March 15th, 2014.
[4] Holland, J.S. (March 4th, 2014) “Antarctic Research Bases Spew Toxic Wastes Into Environment” for National Geographic. Retrieved from <> on March 15th, 2014.
[5] Hale R.C. et al. (2008) “Antarctic Research Bases: Local Sources of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE) Flame Retardants” Environmental Science and Technology, 42: 1452–1457.
[6] Gröndahl, F., J. Sidenmark & Thomsen A. (2009) Polar Research, 28: 298–306.
[7] Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. (1991) “Annex III: Waste Disposal and Waste Management” Retrieved from <> on March 15th, 2014.
[8] NASA Quest. “Environmental Protection in the Antarctic” Retrieved from <> on March 15th, 2014.

Lessons from the Glen Canyon River Dam Adaptive Management Program for Environmental Impact Assessment

Adaptive Management

Ecological systems are characterised by uncertainty.  With adaptive management (AM), key hypotheses about uncertainties of a system are tested through experimentation, thereby utilizing AM as a tool for both management and learning [8].  The most current, available scientific knowledge informs policy decisions, the advantage being that policies and decisions can be revisited as more knowledge is acquired [2].  AM encompasses certain fundamental components including; respecting the suitable temporal and spatial scales of systems; use of statistical power and controls to inform experimentation outcomes; use of computer modelling to propose alternative outcomes; involving a multi-stakeholder body to develop alternate management strategies and communicating newly acquired scientific information to policy makers [8].

Phases of an Adaptive Management Plan



Certain vital components of AM could be adopted by the EIA process to leverage it as a more powerful environmental management tool.  It has been argued that EIAs do not attempt to incorporate uncertainty into their predictions resulting in less successful environmental management outcomes [5].  One aspect of EIA explored here is worth the consideration of a more adaptive approach; information collection which impinges directly on developing predictions and making decisions.

EIAs are often based on large compilations of information geared to documenting all aspects of the system, the downfall being the inability of such detailed inventories to provide information on system component change over time [1].  AM principles do align with the scoping phase of an EIA as only pertinent variables to a system’s functioning are highlighted and documented.  However, AM principles propose that greater effectiveness could be achieved in understanding the system and developing predictions through more integrative descriptions of critical relationships [5].  Typical EIAs tend to rely on descriptive baseline data for impact prediction, a practice that could be substantially improved by measuring environmental variables and proposing testable hypotheses to assess change [1].  An adaptive management approach would employ experimentation to gauge interactions between system components [5].  This approach is no doubt more time and resource-intensive however it provides a more dynamic view of the system, is more adept at proposing potential impacts and is essential where there is little to no data about a system [1].

An adaptive management system has been embraced to manage the Colorado river, an extensively regulated socio-ecological system in the United States.  The Glen Canyon Dam was built on the Colorado River in the 1960s to provide hydroelectricity and regulate flow from the Upper Colorado River Basin to the lower basin, which accounts for approximately 30 million people [3].  This dam has greatly affected the downstream ecosystem due to large fluctuations in flow but is also a vital water source for the Desert Southwest [6].  Much controversy exists on how to share the water resources as well as managing negative impacts on the downstream ecosystem.  In response, the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program was established in 1997 to provide long-term research and monitoring [3].

This management program consists of multiple stakeholders representing diverse interests working to identify strategies for dam management [7].  High-flow experimental releases from the Glen Canyon River dam have been proposed as these high-flow events mimic pre-dam natural flooding of the Colorado River that once conserved and redistributed sediment to the downstream habitats [9].   The intention is to evaluate short-duration, high-volume releases during sediment-enriched periods to determine the effects on sandbars and best practices in conserving this landscape [9].  Sand features downstream are important to support integrity of wildlife habitat, to encourage riparian growth and to preserve archaeological features.  The first experimental high-flow was conducted in 1996 over a 7-day period to test the hypothesis that controlled floods improved sediment deposition and would modify the downstream ecosystem without adversely affecting other canyon resources [6].  The experiment provided new information to ecosystem managers concerning aquatic and terrestrial life where certain species were adversely affected while others were not.  The experiment also proved to be successful in enhancing sandbars [7].  The execution of this experiment was successful in improving the understanding the system, highlighting what is still not well understood and providing feedback that will inform future decisions.

Sandbar in the Lower Colorado River [11]

Sandbar in the Lower Colorado River [11]

The adaptive management principle of defining critical relationships between system components is fully embraced by the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program.  The on-going cycle of learning from high-flow experimentation is used to refine future actions on the river.  Simply collecting baseline data constrains the effectiveness of making predictions and informing decision-making. With an integrative and dynamic approach to data collection, a wealth of scientific knowledge is acquired which assists greatly in improving stewardship of natural resources. In light of the fact that project-level environmental impact assessments are constrained for both time and financial resources, there would no doubt be great resistance to employing experimentation to obtain vital ecosystem information.  There is therefore the need to value quality of information over quantity.  Ecological systems and their components interact and fluctuate in ways that are not understood, it is only when hypotheses are developed and tested that knowledge can be gleaned. Without this knowledge impact predictions and decisions lack substance thereby diminishing environmental impact assessment effectiveness.


[1]       Beanlands G. and Duinker P. (1983)  An Ecological Framework for Environmental Impact Assessment in Canada.  Institute for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University and Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office.

[2]      Downs P. and Kondolf G.M. (2002) Post Appraisals in River in Adaptive Management of River Channel Restoration.  Environmental Management 29 (4) pp. 477-496.

[3]      Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (2013).  Retrieved from on January 19th, 2013.

[4]      Johnson, D.  (1999). The Role of Adaptive Management as an Operational Approach for Resource Management Agencies. Conservation Ecology 3(2): 8

[5]      Noble B., 2000.  Strengthening EIA through Adaptive Management: A system’s perspective.  Environmental Impact Assessment Review. 20 pp. 97-111.

[6]     Patten, D. et al (2001).  A Managed Flood on the Colorado River: Background, Objectives, Design, and Implementation.  Ecological Applications  11(3) pp. 635-643

[7]     Stevens, L et al. (2001).  Planned Flooding and Colorado River Riparian Trade-offs Downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona.  Ecological Applications 11(3) pp. 701-710

[8]     The Resilience Alliance (2014).  Adaptive Management.  Retrieved from on Jan. 18th, 2014.

[9]     U.S Department of the Interior (2012). Environmental Assessment Development and Implementation of a Protocol for High-flow Experimental Releases from Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona, 2011 – 2020.  Retrieved from on January 19th, 2014

[10]      Source: Maven’s Notebook: A water, science, and policy blog., 2013.

[11]    Sandbar deposition following the 2013 high-release flow on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Retrieved from on January 19th, 2014.

EIA Process in Peru: Overlooking Public Participation in the Minas Conga Gold Mine Project

by: Laura Peterson

Conflicts over natural resources are not new to Peru.

Since Inca times and the Spanish Conquistadores of the 1500s, Peru’s gold reserves have been the subject of international fascination, exploration and consequently, to exportation and development.

In understanding the rigorous EIA processes to which proponents must comply to before undertaking their projects in Canada and the USA [1][4], and knowing that one of the foundations of EIA is Public Participation* [6], one would like to be reassured that Canadian and US mining companies in Peru are also subject to the same genre of inclusivity.

This is not the case.

Newmont Mining Corporation is one of the largest gold companies in the world. It is already responsible for the Minera Yanacocha in Cajamarca, Peru, an open-pit gold mine so large that it can be seen from space [7]. Unabashedly, Newmont is seeking to open another gold mine nearby called Minas Conga, a wound to the country which would be three times the Yanacocha mining footprint [7].

Newmont prides themselves on having one of the “most thoroughly studied mining projects in the world”, with 13 years of analysis on the Minas Conga project [5]. However, critical examination suggests that this should be seen less as a source of pride and more as of a glimpse into the inadequacy of Newmont’s EIA itself.

Location of Minas Conga near Cajamarca, Peru

Location of Minas Conga near Cajamarca, Peru

The EIA for Minas Conga was approved in 2010. It faced so much criticism and public backlash that the Peruvian government postponed the mining project until it was submitted to further review

The main public concern? The effects to the water supplied to hundreds of hamlets from the four glacial lakes Newmont planned to drain and replace with artificial reservoirs.

Rightfully so, community leaders are asking for warranted inclusiveness in a huge mining development project which will affect their water supply, their already crumbling transportation network and their livelihoods [2].

The Peruvian government is now forced to act as a mediator between EIA process, international mining companies and local communities [8], adding to the overall ineptitude of the project EIA.  Newmont should have addressed public participation within its EIA process to begin with and ensured full public awareness of its planned course of action concerning the vital resource for the surrounding communities.

Humbly… I don’t know… there are many people who are better educated and who sometimes think or study more, but I think for a good human being, and knowing that water is essential for life, it can never be possible for our natural lake to be replaced with an artificial lake.

– Jose Cruz Rios Izquierdo, Farmer in Paucapampa, Cajamarca [2]

Adding to the national EIA problem, unlike Brazil, Chile and Colombia who’s EIAs are approved by their Ministries of Environment, Peru’s EIAs are approved the Peruvian Ministerio de Energia y Minas (Ministry of Energy and Mines, or MEM) [3].  Since the MEM works closely with the mining companies it is possible to streamline EIAs to get to the construction phase of a project and a direct conflict of interest results.

This compromises independence, objectivity and validity of the Peruvian EIA process to the detriment of its very citizens.

Resonating with Noble’s (2010) warning that the “lack of public involvement during an EIA process […] can be detrimental to the success of an EIA and to project approval”, Newmont has since acknowledged that the debacle has had “a huge impact on its business strategy.” [9]

Thus, overlooking public consultation can even have economic impacts.

And today? The $5 billion project is still stalled and awaiting approval from independent consultation. All the same, to the chagrin of nearby villages, Newmont has already built their first reservoir and plan to drain the first mountain lake by the end of this year [5][7].

Mochica, from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Exhibition, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and Moon

Mochica, from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Exhibition, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and Moon

Social conflicts, international embarrassment, money and time may have been saved if the public had been involved from the very beginning, and if the Newmont Minas Conga EIA had been carried out in a transparent, inclusive manner.

Ultimately, the case of Minas Conga shows that public consultation is essential for large projects, especially those such as gold mines in sensitive ecological areas of a developing country already pockmarked by natural resource exploitation 600-years in the making.

*benefits of involving the public from the beginning of the EIA process include (a) defining the problem more effectively, and (b) the opportunity to access traditional knowledge [6]


[1]    CEAA 2013, “The Basics of Environmental Assessment”:

[2]    Guarniz 2012, “In the Heart of the Conga”, Independent documentary about the Minas Conga Project from the perspective of local residents, produced by Isabel Guarniz:

[3]    Molleda 2011, “Razones para declarar inconstitucional la forma de aprobación de los EIA en el Perú”  (“Reasons to declare EIA approval process as unconstitutional in Peru”):

[4]    NEPA 2013, about the NEPA process and public participation:

[5]    Newmont 2012. Various documents from the Newmont Mining website about the Minas Conga project:

[6]    Noble, B. F. (2010). Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice: Oxford University Press.

[7]    Sullivan 2012, “Andean Self-determination Struggles against Extractive Capitalism”:

[8]    Sylvester 2013, “Is the Peruvian government becoming more mining friendly?”:

[9]    Trefis Team 2013, “A Closer Look at Newmont’s Mining’s Stalled Conga Project in Peru”:

Using GIS to Synthesize the Watershed Approach into EIA

As planners and decision makers being to recognize the spatial significance of managing resources at the watershed scale, the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a main researching and teaching tool will only grow in importance. An early definition of GIS by Burrough (1986) deems it ‘a powerful set of tools for collecting, storing and retrieving at will, transforming and displaying spatial data from the real world.’ Figure 1 shows a very basic cross-sectional model of a unit watershed with different land use types.


Figure 1. Different land uses across a cross-sectional model of a watershed. (Source:

Development projects that require EIA, such as highways, factories and mines tend to impact the landscape by increasing impermeable surface cover. These impacts become compounded when there are multiple developments within the same watershed. The negative impacts of increasing impervious surface cover are noted by Barnes et. al (2002)

“The growth and spread of impervious surfaces within urbanizing watersheds pose significant threats to the quality of natural and built environments. These threats include increased stormwater runoff, reduced water quality, higher maximum summer temperatures, degraded and destroyed aquatic and terrestrial habitats, and the diminished aesthetic appeal of streams and landscapes.”

Since development impacts have cumulative effects, watershed conservation and management needs to be built into regional frameworks developed through Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). Regional SEA is the most appropriate framework within which to address cumulative effects when the primary goal is to influence the nature and pace of conservation and development in support of regional sustainability (Gunn and Noble, 2009). Using GIS software to better understand how these cumulative effects impact the integrity of watersheds is where I see the EIA process taking a major leap forward.

Utilization of GIS applications allows professionals to store, analyze and manipulate large amounts of spatial data on one interface. In today’s world it is not only professionals that have access to watershed data; web-based hydrological models such as Model My Watershed ( are making watershed data available to all sectors so we can collectively conceptualize how our decisions affect the world around us in terms of both space and time. Model My Watershed has developed three user-friendly applications that are free to the public and help us visualize how different land use patterns accumulate together to affect streams, rivers, lakes and entire watersheds.

Companies such as SRK Consulting have already begun utilizing GIS software to assist in the EIA process. Throughout the years of utilizing GIS applications for EIA the team at SRK has already realized some of the benefits:

“Potential risk factors may be identified upfront and presented to the client to assess the viability of proceeding with the project. This approach reduces timeframes and usually presents the client with a cost savings.”

It is the responsibility of those conducing each EIA to understand the current state of development within the watershed they are dealing with, and to understand how proposed projects will affect the integrity of entire watersheds. Anthropogenic stress on watersheds is accelerating along with human development; making GIS applications an integral tool when making more informed decisions and monitoring the impacts our development has on these vital hydrological units around the world.


Barnes, K. B., J. M. Morgan III, and M. C. Roberge., 2002. Impervious surfaces and the    quality             of natural and built environments. Baltimore, Md.: Department of             Geography and          Environmental Planning, Towson University. 28 p

Burrough, P.A., 1986. Principles of Geographic Information Systems for Land          Resources       Assessment Clarendon Press, Oxford. pp. 193.

Gunn, J., Noble, B., 2009. Integrating Cumulative Effects in Regional Strategic Environmental       Assessment Frameworks: Lessons from Practice. Journal of Environmental Assessment            Policy and Management, 11:03

Noble, Bram., 2008. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to             Principles and Practice, Second Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press

SRK Consulting., 2013. Application of GIS in the EIA Process.