By Pete Antoniewicz
Whether your water utility is challenged with increasingly stringent standards, implementing new technology, or coping with aging infrastructure replacement, new project implementation concerns can be daunting. Take advantage of proven practices from experienced water industry professionals to put your project on the right track with sound evaluation of engineering assistance for your project.
Build Confidence In Your Approach
Don’t be intimidated by a new process or first-time project. The same methodical techniques that apply to troubleshooting process problems can also be applied to the act of choosing and working with an engineering resource to deliver the best solution.
- Do Your Homework. The web can be an intimidating resource until you find the right portal to the type of information you are seeking. This blog from WaterOperator.org — an aggregator of web resources for small water system operators — includes a series of helpful links on the topic of researching, identifying, and working with potential engineering resources. This manual from the Ohio Qualifications-Based Selection Coalition referenced in that blog is an excellent example of the depth of resources available. Aside from some state-specific references there, it can be used as a framework reference for most major water utility projects.
- Identify Government Resources. Many state government websites offer guidance on how to identify appropriately licensed engineers, request proposals, or handle procurement. Search your state’s “.gov” website or try a variety of appropriate keywords in a general search engine. Here is just one example.
- Seek Peer Referrals. Being involved with a national, a state/regional, or a special-interest water association can offer numerous opportunities to network with other water-industry professionals like you who have direct experience in similar infrastructure applications. Based on their experience, ask them about points of caution as well as potential engineering firm referrals for your project.
Prepare To Protect Your Utility’s Interests
Gain a deeper perspective on construction projects by downloading this thorough RCAP guide on “Getting Your Project to Flow Smoothly: A Guide to Developing Water and Wastewater Infrastructure.” The 72-page in-depth guide provides a methodical look at the overall phases of a project, multiple checklists to follow, and pitfalls to avoid throughout the process.
Before starting any project, read "Ten Tips To Help Communities Hire An Engineer," written for community water systems looking to evaluate engineering firms for an outsourced project. The article was developed for the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP.org) website by its Great Lakes RCAP Regional Office. Here is a synopsis of those ten tips:
- Plan For Efficiency. Doing the right homework upfront — problem identification, current facilities, special project insights — will make it easier to protect your best interests while improving communication with potential engineering firms.
- Assemble Your Team. Recruit a selection committee of people familiar with the community and the challenge. This can include your utility CEO/CFO, town administrators, a trusted water-utility contractor, and county or local utility or economic development specialists.
- Make Your Request For Quote (RFQ) Work For You. Develop a document that focuses on your utility’s needs and potential recommendations for meeting them, not a cookie-cutter format that lets prospective bidders send a generic response for similar types of projects.
- Publicize Your RFQ. Certainly, ask for engineering references from other regional utilities who might have experience with similar projects, but do it as a complement to publicizing your project through larger regional newspapers and online resources.
- Look For Experience. Include a request for a list of all comparable projects for comparably sized utilities over the past five years, complete with timelines and scope of project. That will enable you to choose to make reference calls at random, not just to a couple hand-picked customers.
- Insist On A Meeting. Make sure your engineers review your onsite situation and meet with members of your selection committee before submitting qualifications.
- Prepare A Thorough List Of Questions. Use your questions to discern the engineer’s insights, experience, and approach with projects like yours, especially if your state laws forbid talking about costs before vendor evaluation and ranking.
- Focus On Quality, Not Quantity. Focus on interviewing three to five firms that seem to match your requirements the best and allow enough time to gather their feedback. Be sure to focus most of the time and attention on your needs and not the routine dog-and-pony show.
- Meet Your Project Manager. Getting a feel for the expertise and chemistry with your key contact can be the biggest factor in determining how successful your project might be.
- Protect Your Community’s Interests. Use the first phase of interviews to identify and to rank the most qualified firms for your unique project requirements. After fee proposals come in, you will be able to negotiate scope of services or consider your options with the next most qualified firm.
As with so many other aspects of life, for better procurement you have to work a little harder. Yes, doing the homework on engineering options up front does take some effort, but it can save time and money in the long run by minimizing costly change orders, rework, and project delays.