Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) process for dam consultants

Contact: Byron Lane 517-281-6821

1. QBS Consultants 
2. QBS Process 
3. Getting Started 
4. General Questions 
5. Dam Inspections 
6. Dam Design Work 
7. Emergency Action Plan 

1. Selection of a Dam Consultant 

Owners of public and private dams will occasionally need advice and assistance when they need to make repairs, construct a new dam, or prepare an Emergency Action Plan. If you need help from a professional engineering design consultant, there is an objective, flexible procedure for obtaining these services known as Qualifications Based Selection (QBS). The QBS process is helpful to those who frequently require these services as well as those with little or no past experience working with design professionals. QBS provides owners with a selection process that is straightforward and easy to implement. The process is objective and fair, can be well documented, and is open to audit. 

QBS has received national and state attention in the public sector through legislation for many years. In October 1972, the federal government enacted Public Law 92-582 covering the selection of architects and engineers based on qualifications. The Michigan QBS Coalition was formed in 1984. In 1987, it undertook the charge by the Michigan Legislature in House Concurrent Resolution #206 to provide a documented understanding of the process. 

The QBS program offers a free facilitator service, (underwritten by six non-profit associations), to support owners in need of design professional services. The facilitator will meet with an owner, listen to the owner's needs, and answer questions. The facilitator can help set up a process for selection based on the owner's needs. 

The QBS facilitator will not do the following: recommend any individual or firms, provide evaluations or critiques on any individual or firms, or dictate the process to be used in the selection of a design professional. 

There is a twelve-minute video about QBS and a workbook with many ideas on how to use the QBS process. Both are available at no charge from: 

ACEC/Michigan, Inc.
215 N. Walnut St. 
Lansing, MI 48933
517-332-2066 

2. QBS: Recommended Process 

The QBS process recommended by the QBS Coalition includes the following steps: 

  1. The owner determines the preliminary scope of work. 
  2. The projected time frame is established. 
  3. A list of consulting engineering firms is assembled and/or the project is announced to the public when appropriate. 
  4. Letters of Qualifications are requested, received, and reviewed. 
  5. The Letters of Qualifications are evaluated to select a list of firms to be interviewed. 
  6. When appropriate, a tour of the site or facility is arranged. In some cases, only a briefing is necessary. 
  7. Interviews are conducted with the qualified firms. 
  8. The most qualified firm is selected and a complete scope of services is developed with that firm. 
  9. A contract is then negotiated with the selected firm. 
  10. Post-selection notifications are made to all firms that were interviewed. 
  11. The process is evaluated for future dam projects. 

3. QBS: Getting Started 

If dam construction or repair work is needed, the first step is to send a Request for Letters of Qualification. Names of potential consultants can be obtained from associations like ACEC/Michigan and the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers. This request asks for resumes of key personnel that would be assigned to the project, related experience, examples of similar projects, and the name of a contact person. It is important that the key personnel are licensed as a Professional Engineer in the state of Michigan. License information can be verified by calling the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services, Office of Commercial Services at (517)241-9242. 

It is important to talk to the contact person to see if past projects were completed on time, on budget, and whether the owner is satisfied with the completed work. 

4. QBS: General Questions 

1. Is the staff person to be assigned to this project a licensed professional engineer in the State of Michigan? 

Yes. Most activities related to dam safety inspections require the services of a licensed professional engineer. 

2. Have members of your staff attended any of the DEQ sponsored dam safety workshops? If so which workshops? 

Yes. Most have not had specific titles, but are applicable to inspection and design. Recent workshops have addressed Emergency Action Planning for dams and are applicable to a client in need of an EAP for their dam. In addition, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) offers many technical seminars each year. 

3. How are your fees developed? 

  • Fixed 
  • Hourly 
  • Combination 

4. Do you carry professional liability insurance? 

Whether this is critical depends on several factors, including the dam's hazard potential rating. 

5. Do you belong to any professional organizations? 

  • Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) 
  • American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 

Both of these organizations are dedicated to continuing and enhancing the technical expertise of its members. 

6. What do you know about a dam owners legal liability? 

While this is a particularly broad subject, these principles are of particular importance to a dam owner: 

  • There is liability inherent to the impoundment of water. 
  • If a dam owner is proven to be negligent, liability will be significant. 
  • In the event of a dam failure during a flood, the dam owner is generally only liable for incremental damages caused by the additional water released from the impoundment by the failure. The dam owner is generally not responsible for damages caused by the flood itself. The principal exception to this rule is where a dam is designed and intended to be used for flood protection. 

7. Describe your experience or training in the following areas related to dam safety: 

  • slope stability 
  • structural stability 
  • dam design 
  • hydraulics 
  • hydrology 
  • flow net analysis 

All of these are important factors to consider in evaluating the safety and operation of a dam. 

8. Will all the proposed services be performed by members of your company's staff, or will parts of it be subcontracted? 

Subcontracting is not inherently a problem, but delays in completion of service may occur unless tight control of timing is written into contract language. 

5. QBS: Dam Inspections 

1. Have you or members of your staff conducted dam safety inspections per the requirements of the dam safety statutes in the past? 

2. Have you or members of your staff conducted dam safety inspections per the requirements of the legal lake level statutes in the past? 

Each of the two preceding statutes has different inspection and report requirements. Some dams are regulated under both statutes. The engineer should be familiar with the requirements of both. 

3. If yes to either of the above, how many of each type? 

4. Will the staff person conducting the field inspection be a licensed professional engineer in the state of Michigan? 

Yes is the best answer, but some firms may have unlicensed staff conduct the field inspection, with a licensed engineer signing the report. This is not illegal, but this is not a good practice unless the unlicensed inspector is an engineer very knowledgeable about dam safety. 

5. Please provide references from past dam inspections. 

Contact the references and find out if they were satisfied with the services rendered. If the references are not satisfied, find out why. Sometimes, the problem is the result of a misunderstanding in the terms of the contract which may be as much the client's fault as the engineer's. 

6. What are your areas of specialty? 

  • Hydraulics 
  • Reservoir routing 
  • Foundation engineering 
  • Geo-technical engineering 
  • Dam design and construction 
  • Evaluation of existing concrete structures 

Keep in mind that not all of these areas of expertise are necessary for all dams. In particular, reservoir routing is not always necessary to determine if a dam has adequate spillway capacity. In addition, if the engineering consultant does not have the necessary tools "in house" to conduct a reservoir routing, the necessary information can be provided to the DEQ which will then conduct the necessary modeling. The engineer must still understand the principle behind reservoir routing and be able to provide the necessary information to the DEQ. 

7. What turn around time can you provide on an inspection report? 

Be sure that the inspection and final report can be completed in the needed time frame. 

6. QBS: Dam Design Work (New Construction or Repair Work) 

1. What is the Michigan statute regulating dams which are at least 6 feet in height and have an impoundment at least 5 acres in surface area as determined under design flood conditions? 

Part 315, Dam Safety, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994, PA 451, as amended. (Formerly known as The Dam Safety Act, 1989 PA 300, as amended.) 

2. What is the Michigan statute regulating dams with a Legal Lake Level? 

Part 307, Inland Lake Levels, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994, PA 451, as amended. (Formerly known as The Inland Lake Level Act, 1961 PA 146, as amended.) 

3. Are you familiar with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's permitting process for projects involving dams? 

4. Have you done dam design, repair, construction, or removal projects in the past? If so, please provide references for this work. 

5. Have you had any advanced training on areas related to dam design or repair? If so, please list training. 

7. QBS: Emergency Action Plan (EAP) Preparation 

1. What statute requires preparation of an EAP for some dams found? 

Part 315, Dam Safety, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994, PA 451, as amended. (Formerly known as The Dam Safety Act, 1989 PA 300, as amended.) 

2. What dams need an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)? 

Only dams regulated by Part 315 which have a "High" or "Significant" hazard potential rating are required to have an EAP. 

3. What computer programs do you have available to determine downstream areas threatened by failure of a dam? 

  • DAMBRK or FLDWAV 
  • HEC-1 
  • Others? 

4. Who reviews EAP for consistency with county or local emergency operations plans? 

The local Emergency Services Coordinator. Usually, the coordinator is part of county government, but in some instances, a local government official will have jurisdiction.