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10 year logoBy Dave Peterson

‘As is true of many business sectors, the architecture, engineering and construction industry . . . has its own language,’ noted Dave Peterson to start his March 2009 Currents column, ‘and the construction documents generated by those professionals (watershapers very definitely included) are the medium through which everyone communicates.  

‘The challenge for watershapers is that we’ve come to the table a bit later than most other members of the A/E/C community, so we have some catching up to do.  Fortunately, the National CAD Standards . . . offer strong support to those needing to get up to speed.’  He continued:


‘[T]he concepts presented in the NCS are not limited in utility to those who work primarily or exclusively with computer-assisted design (CAD) systems.  Even hand-drafters, after all, need to speak the same language as their colleagues!’


‘When I first read the table of contents in the NCS, I found myself thinking “Why do they need 178 pages for terms and abbreviations?”  Even considering the number of possible alternative abbreviations, that total represents almost 20 percent of the overall page count and seemed a bit of overkill.  The plain fact, however, is that there are lots of duplicate or overlapping terms and abbreviations already in common use.  The mission the NCS undertook was to boil all of the possibilities down to officially accepted usages.’


‘If the construction documents themselves don’t carry a list of abbreviations (most do as a matter of convenience), those bidding contractors risk both low- or high-bid problems if they don’t know that OF/CI means “owner furnished/contractor installed.”  In my practice, our plans include tables of these terms, including a number we’ve made up for specific watershaping terms not defined by the NCS – including SKM, which we use to denote skimmers.’


‘While the Terms and Abbreviations module addresses written language, the Symbols section defines a standard graphical language consisting of about 1,500 examples. . . .   We have also created many more of our own in the belief that the watershaping industry needs a unique hieroglyphic language to indicate our specific equipment, details and processes.’


‘Last but not least in this discussion, if you have ever been frustrated because a plan checker’s corrections list requested information that is already on the plans, you might find relief in one final part of the NCS:  It’s the Code Conventions Module, and it provides guidelines for identification, organization, and documentation of regulatory information in your plans that will, one hopes, expedite both the design and permit-review processes.’


‘We’ve used this module as a springboard for developing our own Code Compliance Checklist.  We essentially established a table in our drawing set that lists the health department’s requirements in one column.  In a second, we indicate the relevant sheet and detail number (as applicable) where the specific requirement is handled.’


‘As I have mentioned repeatedly throughout this sequence of articles and columns, the National CAD Standard is not required by law or code, but it still has much to recommend it to watershapers.  As I see it, the real value is that you don’t need to reinvent something that teams of people have already established through years of coordination and consensus.  

‘Better yet,’ Dave concluded, ‘our increasing familiarity with its provisions raises watershapers’ standing within the A/E/C community and makes it much easier for us to fit into project teams.’

In the five year since Dave Peterson wrote his series about National CAD Standards, has compliance with these guidelines become part of what you do in preparing for your watershaping projects?   If yes, has the system proved beneficial?  Flexible? Workable?  Please share your experiences in the comment section below!

Dave Peterson is president of Watershape Consulting of San Diego, Calif.  He’s been part of the watershaping industry since 1994, starting his own firm in 2004 after stints with an aquatic-engineering firm and a manufacturer.  A registered civil engineer, he now supports other watershape professionals worldwide with design, engineering and construction-management services and may be reached via his web site,

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