Site selection is the process of screening potential building sites and assessing their relative advantages and disadvantages, avoiding unsuitable areas and identifying the most favourable location for a wastewater treatment plant that reuses treated wastewater and faecal sludge. This involves a variety of technical and non-technical (e.g. environmental, social and financial) factors and criteria, all of which are important and need to be considered carefully and adequately.
Factors commonly considered in site selection include environmental parameters (e.g. distance from residential areas, present and future land use, availability, buffer zones, etc.), geological and hydrology criteria (e.g. slope of land, soil type, surface and underground water sources, flood plains, permeability, etc.), and economic parameters (e.g. distance from main roads, etc.). Constructing a wastewater treatment plant in an unfavourable geographical location can increase the cost of excavation and embankment. Constructing it in close proximity to residential areas can generate complaints regarding noises and smells, turning the opinion of the local population against the project. Then again, tolerating a large distance between the site and mayor roads increases the overall length of the sewer network, increasing construction and maintenance costs. The chosen terrain also influences long-term running costs: for instance, in a flat area, the required number of sewage lifting stations and the related electricity costs will be higher.
Site selection follows upon community selection, which is the process of objectively examining multiple locations where a sanitation intervention may be implemented to benefit the community as well as the environment. Site selection must also take into consideration issues concerning land acquisition, land allocation, and the reuse of treated wastewater and faecal sludge.
See our practical experiences, lessons learned, and recommendations below.
Why you should care
Selecting a suitable site for the construction of a wastewater treatment plant is key to maximising environmental and social benefits and ensuring the long-term financial sustainability of the entire wastewater management scheme (including collection, treatment, reuse, and disposal).
What really matters: Lessons learned & recommendations
Key lessons learned and recommendations concerning the site selection process are grouped as I) general, II) technical, III) soft component, and IV) communication/coordination and liaison:
I) General lessons learned and recommendations:
Do not only talk about participation and transparency – live it!
The direct and lively participation of local level stakeholders is an important guiding principle of the site selection process. It is not enough to call the process participatory while sticking to a top-down approach. We recommend arranging the process in an extremely open and transparent manner and acting as a mediator/facilitator. It is inadvisable to impose a specific location on the local populace; instead, they (or their legal representatives) should take part in site selection and have a strong voice in the process.
In the ISSRAR project, we failed to live up to this principle, as our team pre-selected three sites that were deemed technically and economically feasible. By narrowing down the number of potential sites and holding a vote on the pre-selected scenarios deemed technically and economically feasible, we adopted a top-down approach rather than a participatory one. In retrospect, the initial step should have consisted in mapping the target area and looking for potential sites together with representatives of the local community. By doing so, we could have benefited from community knowledge about land characteristics and let the community express their wishes and concerns. At this stage, the role of the implementing agency should be limited to the facilitation and mediation of discussions, using the most relevant results as inputs for subsequent technical feasibility studies.
II) Lessons learned and recommendations concerning technical issues:
Assemble a core technical working group of local stakeholders and keep them regularly updated
When defining criteria for the site selection process, make sure to involve and consult different local stakeholders, share key information with them, listen to what they think, and include their inputs in jointly formulated criteria. Criteria-supported site selection is a multi-step process that involves more than just defining relevant criteria: it also requires communication, engagement, and regular follow-ups with key local stakeholders. To make your life easier, be sure to establish a core technical working group consisting of 5-8 people who possess advanced technical knowledge (about infrastructure, water, sanitation, waste, etc.) and the capacity to meaningfully contribute to the site selection process.
To avoid having to form a group from scratch, we made use of existing structures, such as the local council, to recruit our core technical working group. However, in our experience this approach did not meet the requirements of project because the members often neither had the needed technical knowledge nor sufficient time to contribute to the project. We therefore recommend clearly defining the needed capacity and availability of each candidate for the core technical working group before approaching them. After all, they need to be updated, involved, and motivated for the entire duration of the project.
Coordinate with local authorities and other project initiatives to respect local regulations
Site selection criteria must be aligned with the regulatory requirements and standards issued by local authorities. However, these regulations may be ambiguous, conflicting or misleading.
For example, regulations by the Jordanian Ministry of Environment (MoEnv) define the minimal required distance between the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP)/sanitation solution site and the nearest street/residential area, etc. However, the regulations were not phrased clearly, so that even studying the legal context in detail did not help us generate reliable information. In such instances, in-depth discussions and in-person consultations with local authorities are required. Most likely, you will not be not the first ones to confront these regulations. It can make sense, therefore, to coordinate and consult with other organisations and find out how they solved similar issues.
Define and apply site selection criteria and conduct studies together with the core technical working group
For the ISSRAR team, one lesson we learned from implementing the site selection process was that selection criteria should not be based exclusively on technical aspects. Instead, comprehensive criteria encompassing technical and environmental as well as social aspects should have been defined together with the core technical working group and then submitted to the Water Authority of Jordan (WAJ) as well as the relevant local entities. Comprehensive criteria should also consider the interests of the local population and allow for maximum transparency.
In the site selection process, it is important to 1) conduct joint mapping exercises and brainstorming sessions to tap into local areal knowledge, 2) avoid narrowing down the number of feasible options too early and always keep solid back-up options at hand, 3) make sure to visualize the available options and translate their potential consequences into true-to-life situations that would directly affect the community, and 4) apply clearly defined and jointly developed criteria, including a scoring system to allow for a transparent selection process that prioritizes sites for technical inspection and analysis while sifting out unsuitable options.
III) Lessons learned and recommendations concerning soft component / communication / coordination and liaison
Identify and map influencers within the community
For the site selection process to run smoothly, it is important to be aware of the official and unofficial entities you should coordinate with. The aim should be to involve all stakeholders (or their legal representatives) in the decision-making process. To achieve this goal, you can employ helpful tools like stakeholder identification and mapping, analyses of stakeholders’ importance and influence, research into their concerns and interests, or a stakeholder strategy plan.
The ISSRAR project placed its focus almost exclusively on coordinating with the municipality but lost sight of other ongoing initiatives and plans, such as a local salt factory and the Azraq Master Plan, which is the statutory land use plan that guides Azraq’s development in the medium term. To avoid similar blind spots, you should identify key stakeholders in the local community, keep in touch with them, share your ideas and results with them, and learn more about the community’s concerns from them, so they do not become your opponents in the future.
Maintain close and regular exchanges with the local government
You should coordinate closely with the local government (e.g. municipality) to ensure that your project can be adequately integrated into existing land use and local development plans. Identify projects that may ‘compete’ with your sanitation project and confirm that the local government aligns the project with other project initiatives. Try to create synergies rather than enemies. Information about other planned projects might not be out in the open. Maintaining proper coordination and communication will help unearth anything of importance.
Establish a local committee
Make use of existing communication and decision-making structures, but make sure that these structures cover your project needs.
ISRRAR’s strategy was to use the local council for much of the project’s communication and decision-making processes. However, it became clear that this in itself did not allow for sufficient participation of the local community. We therefore recommend forming a local committee and carefully defining the respective roles and levels of decision-making.
Make sure your information or submittals are clear
The information you put out can easily be misinterpreted. Therefore, be prepared to justify all project steps at any time to anyone. In the course of the ISSRAR project, an official map noting distances of the proposed sanitation system to the nearest houses was submitted to a government entity to underpin compliance with applicable laws. However, the information this map contained was misinterpreted which almost resulted in the rejection of the proposed location.
Take the following precautions to avoid misunderstandings:
- Follow up in person.
- Be prepared to explain the project over and over again.
- Work with illustrative material (graphs, maps, handouts etc.).
Conduct formal and informal assessments of interests related to the site
As much as you intend to stay in close contact with the local community and listen to their concerns, your chosen method of sharing information and updates with them is of the utmost importance.
Initially, the ISSRAR team failed to maintain close contact and good relationships with the community. Therefore we often acquired critical information only when it was too late. In response, we attempted to be more present in Azraq by holding meetings with community members, conducting assessments of personal and private interests related to the proposed sites, carefully listening to the community’s concerns, and following up with them regularly.
Link the benefits of project to the interests of the local community
There are obvious benefits to communicating the aims of the project in a simple and clear manner and linking them to the interests of the local community. We used visuals (graphs, maps and photos, etc.) and translated information into local tongue so that people unfamiliar with the water sector could understand the topic. For example, we discussed the concrete costs of desludging services (which are of high relevance to citizens) rather than the sewer systems in the abstract.
- Have local stakeholders actively participated in the site selection process?
- Have you established a core technical working group of local stakeholders to support the site selection process?
- Are you coordinating with local authorities and other project initiatives to respect local regulations?
- Did you define and apply site selection criteria together with members of your core technical working group?
- Are you continuously identifying and mapping influencers within the community to learn about how their concerns and interests might affect your project?
- Are you maintaining close coordination with the local government to ensure that your project can be adequately integrated into local land use and development plans?
- Have you carefully defined the roles and levels of decision-making when forming your local committee?
- Is information concerning the project phrased clearly to avoid misinterpretations and delays in implementation?
- Are you maintaining close contact and fostering good relationships with the local community to acquire critical information in due time?
- Are you linking the project’s benefits to the interests of the local community?