Technical and treatment options for small communities

As you assess your community's wastewater needs and available options, you will probably need to consult and work with many different people and groups. Some of these people may be biased toward particular technologies or options. The ability to recognize these biases can help the steering committee or task force address community concerns. Resources on this page can help your community identify guidelines for hiring consultants, screening proposals, interviewing consultant candidates and how to involve the community in this process. 

Technical and treatment option resources

Individual or cluster systems: What are our options?

This two-page fact sheet may be printed and reproduced for use with your group. This publication summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of individual and cluster systems and defines "centralized," "decentralized", and "combination" systems.

Small community wastewater solutions resource book

Chapter 3 reviews why it is important to understand what wastewater contains, what problems it may cause, and what it takes to clean up water for recycling. Includes lists of decentralized options that may be available.

Introduction to wastewater treatment options for small communities

All wastewater treatment systems begin with the basic premise of wastewater collection followed by treatment and dispersal. Communities have a wide variety of options to provide the best treatment in the most cost efficient manner. This guide will help communities begin sorting out the options by providing an introduction to some of the choices available.

Working with professionals

Chapter 7 in the Small Community Wastewater Solutions& book is designed to help your task force work with the broad spectrum of consultants you may need to assist you as you work to meet your community wastewater needs. It includes guidelines for selecting a qualified consultant who will fit into your community effort, and help you develop and evaluate proposals.

Additional resources

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Additional resources

Biases when working with professionals

Sample consultant interview questions

  1. What experience does your firm have in working with communities or districts such as ours?
  2. Are you familiar enough with our situation and the local area to know some of our particular needs?
  3. What is the design philosophy of your firm?
  4. Are you willing to look at innovative and/or alternative designs? What examples of this can you provide from past projects?
  5. Are you familiar with various funding programs within Minnesota for waste-water as they relate to communities or wastewater districts? What has been your experience in working with these funding agencies?
  6. Has your firm assisted communities with grant writing or funding applications? What has been the success rate of the applications?
  7. If we told you that our goal is to keep the costs of treatment methods below $12,000 per user, do you feel your firm could produce a solution to meet this requirement?
  8. Who specifically in your firm would be working directly with our board? Will the lead consultant be willing and able to attend public meetings to discuss the project? What other projects are you currently working on that could take precedence and time away from our project?
  9. Is your firm under any time constraints for this year?
  10. How much of the work on our project would be subcontracted?
  11. Do you offer to “carry” communities for the cost of the study until funding is obtained, or is partial payment expected?
  12. What time schedule does your firm propose for completing the feasibility study?
  13. Are there specific itemized services that your firm cannot provide? 

Generic ranking system for engineers or consultants

These general topics may be discussed when interviewing a consultant about a variety of the tasks necessary to develop new wastewater treatment systems. The search committee should review these issues before the interview, agree on the total number of points you want to assign to each category, and provide clear guidance on the scoring scale. For example, you might rank each on a scale of 1 to 5, where:

1 = No experience/clueless; 
2 = Subcontractor on project similar to ours; 
3 = Active participant in project similar to ours; 
4 = Designed, installed or managed project similar to ours; and 
5 = Clearly expert on this issue or situation

Evaluating engineering firms is similar to interviewing new employees. To the extent possible, ask for specific experiences and examples that address the issues described below. If an answer is unclear or not specific, ask the same question in a different manner. If a group is interviewing the consultant or engineering firm representative, rotate the role of questioner so that everyone has the opportunity to interact with the interviewee. Review insights or reactions immediately after the interview while impressions are still fresh. Take notes during the interview so that you can explain your ranking to the others. 

Questions to ask a consulting firm's references

  1. What services did the firm provide for your community? (for example, feasibility study, funding application, design, construction)
  2. Were you satisfied with the quality of the work? Were they able to provide you with a cost-effective system?
  3. Was the firm able to meet the time frame and schedules agreed upon in your contract?
  4. Did the consultant have other projects scheduled that caused time delays in your project?
  5. Were the costs and charges reasonable in relation to the work actually performed?
  6. Who was the consultant assigned to your project, and was he/she knowledgeable about the funding program and its requirements?
  7. Did the firm assist you with your application to your funding source? Was that application successful?
  8. Was the consultant willing and able to work closely and effectively with your community and/or district board?
  9. Did you experience any problems that would discourage you from hiring this firm again?
  10. If you could start over with the knowledge you have gained during your experience in working on this project, what would you do differently? 

Choose the right consultant for your wastewater project

Pipeline, Winter 1997, Vol. 8, No. 1. 
National Small Flows Clearinghouse, West Virginia University, Morgantown.

How to hire an engineer

Various agencies and assistance organizations have experience assisting communities in the engineer selection process. Here are a few.