Big Reservoir, Big Savings: Innovative QC and QA Strategies for the Bois d’Arc Lake Program

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Adam Payne

Construction Manager

Developing Bois d’Arc Lake, Texas’ largest new reservoir in 30 years, has been a massive undertaking for the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD). The magnitude of the program — a $1.6 billion program divided into five distinct construction packages — required a proactive approach to plan for quality control and quality assurance for each project. It included program- and project-level staff totaling more than 40 individuals at the peak of construction.

Instead of approaching Bois d’Arc Lake as a 100% consultant-driven program, NTMWD took an innovative approach with a staff augmentation and construction management-at-risk (CMAR) model, which saved NTMWD on their overall budget. Projects within the program were CMAR and collaborative delivery; this process has kept the ball rolling smoothly even when unforeseen issues emerged. The Freese and Nichols Program Management team also recommended that $60 million be put aside in the program budget for contingency. This came in handy for unforeseen design, construction, property acquisition and utility issues that came about throughout the program duration.

Innovative and Money-Saving Approaches

Program staff augmentation: Typically, large program management can equate to 3-6% of total cost of the program. Currently, the Bois d’Arc Lake program management costs are sitting at under 2%, expected to save NTMWD around $60 million.

CMAR: CMAR value engineering is estimated to have saved more than $25 million programwide.

Full-service provider for mitigation: Switching the environmental mitigation projects from CMAR to the FSP model led to $90 million in savings.

SWIFT funding: NTMWD received $1.477 billion in State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) funds. The SWIFT funding is anticipated to save NTMWD and its ratepayers more than $240 million in financing costs.

The Results

Significant money savings: Although the full total for Construction Management and Inspection costs for the program are yet to be determined, it is estimated to be under the industry average for similar work. With active management at the program and project level, staff hours (over 220,000 manhours estimated) are monitored to ensure efficient use of authorized funds. Estimates have the CM and Inspection work coming in at under three percent of construction cost.

Superior performance: Freese and Nichols achieved superior performance on their QA contract for Bois d’Arc Lake Program by staffing it with a “dream team” of resident engineers, construction managers and inspectors. High performing and experienced Freese and Nichols and NTMWD employees, as well as exceptional subconsultant team members, have made the management and inspection of the $1.6 billion program more manageable. Currently, at its height, the program has a total of approximately 40 full-time field staff filling a variety of roles.

Ease of use: The quality assurance contract setup was streamlined and simplified for the owner by negotiating the number of contingency hours into the initial contract and subsequent amendments. This allowed the team great flexibility to respond to contractor changes in staff, shifts, working hours, etc. Without the contingency “bucket,” these changes would have required board authorization, and Freese and Nichols and NTMWD would have been slower to respond.

Innovations and Stakeholder Engagement Tools

Multiple methods were used to provide NTMWD with near real-time updates. The Bois d’Arc Lake team has used drones extensively throughout various stages of the program. With a dedicated drone pilot that flies at least once a week, we’re able to produce repetitive aerial images from similar locations that will eventually be stitched together into a video showing progression over time. In addition to the drone photography and videos, the program is also utilizing dedicated georeferenced satellite imagery combined with GIS to show near real-time site layouts with project line work overlaid. These methods enabled the program construction manager to conduct virtual site visits for interested groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the project, FNiManager, our in-house documentation management system, has been running in the background to streamline the flow of information and store project data for convenient access. FNiManager can be used on laptops, tablets or phones, expediting the construction process by allowing instant access to plans, specifications and project documentation. By using FNiManager, personnel in the field can save time by performing document control and contract administration duties while also having direct access to submittals and finalized project documentation.

Best Practices

Start early: To begin figuring out the setup, NTMWD’s construction staff began meeting with Freese and Nichols program and construction managers as early as 2015 — three years ahead of construction. The plan changed frequently, but the foundation set in 2015 helped ensure the teamwork aspect of quality management.

Build in flexibility: There is no way to plan for all of the twists and turns in construction. Plan for the uncertainty by phasing in staff when needed and having contingency to allow for flexibility. An example of where this came into play for the program, would be when contractors decided to go seven days per week, 24 hours per day for an extended period. NTMWD and Freese and Nichols were able to be flexible to cover the necessary shifts with contingency amounts that were already authorized. This allowed for the contractor to initiate the shifts more quickly, saving valuable time during the dry months.

Assemble a team you can trust: Find teaming partners that can work within the structure presented and help provide that flexibility. The team out at Bois d’Arc is absolutely one of the strengths. Each firm is dedicated to the quality management in the field and providing NTMWD with the best final product possible.

Standardize processes: Some processes cannot be standardized due to the differences in project setup, type of work, etc. Streamline processes like reporting, photos, document control and others as much as possible. Combined with the implementation of these innovative approaches and best practices, NTMWD was able to maintain consistent quality on complex programs, including organizational configurations, tools to assist with management, and field representation and inspection.

Project Details

NTMWD has been formally planning Bois d’Arc Lake since 2003, and construction started on several components in May 2018. The breakdown of the five construction packages is below:

  • CMAR 1 – Archer Western – Dam, Reservoir, Reservoir Clearing and Terminal Storage Reservoir
  • Full-Service Provider – Resource Environmental Solutions – Environmental Mitigation at Riverby, Upper Bois d’Arc Creek and Additional Mitigation Sites
  • CMAR 3 – Garney – Leonard Water Treatment Plant, High Service and Raw Water Pump Stations and Dam Maintenance Facility
  • CMAR 4 – Austin Bridge and Road – FM 897, Fannin County Roads, Recreational Boat Ramps and Lake Operations Center
  • CMAR 5 – Garney – Raw Water Pipeline and Leonard to McKinney Treated Water Pipeline

Program completion and treated water production are scheduled for Spring 2022.

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Adam Payne, PE, CCM, is a Construction Manager in Dallas. He leads Freese and Nichols’ Construction Management team for the Bois d’Arc Lake program.