COMPLACENCY IS NOT AN OPTION
Erika Yarrow talks to Mike Woolgar of
Fifty-three year old Mike Woolgar is managing director of the
environmental and water division at Atkins where he oversees
approximately 250 scientists and engineers working on the
management of water, drainage and associated regulations.
Mike studied civil engineering at the University of Bristol,
graduating in 1980. He joined Atkins' water department in the
same year and after six months went to work on the Algerian water
Established in 1938, Atkins is an engineering and design
consultancy with over 300 offices across the globe. Named
2010 Consultancy of the Year in the CIBSE Low Carbon Awards, Atkins
has approximately 17,700 employees and revenue of £1.56billion.
But Mike's working life hasn't been spent solely with
Atkins. He spent four years as a project engineer working on
reservoir storage and management for Brown & Root, during which
time he worked on Libya's Great Man-Made River. Considered to
be the world's largest irrigation project, the Great Man-made River
consists of a network that supplies water from the Nubian sandstone
aquifer in the Sahara Desert to the cities of Tripoli, Benghaze and
Sirte via 2,820 kilometres of pipe and aqueducts and 1,300
Returning to Atkins in July 1992 as a senior engineer in the
water department, Mike began working on water resources planning
and water transfer projects in the UK and overseas. His role
has led him to see at firsthand the issues of water scarcity and he
has established a desire to educate a resource greedy public of the
valuable commodity that fresh water is. Mike says: 'If I had
to write my own obituary, I would like to think that I had helped
to change people's relationship with water from uninformed
consumption to informed management.'
When asked about his favourite project to date Mike recalls a
period working on the Evinos Dam in Greece in 1994-2001, creating a
tunnel from the dam to transport water to Athens. Mike says:
'When we began working on the project things were in complete
disarray. But we sorted the problems out. I had to
manage people working on site and also travel to Russia to visit
manufacturers, as well as preparing all of the safety systems.'
Working with DFID on hygiene and disease prevention in rural
communities overseas, has given Mike a keen understanding of the
importance of water. When asked of his ambitions for the
future he says: 'I would like to try to influence better water
management here and overseas. We have had a terrible
blindness to water management in the past. I want to support
moves that respect water as a valued part of the environment.
It is wrong that we only feel we need to make changes to our
management of water when we have had a bad hit. I feel we are
very complacent about water.'
Mike's advice to those coming into the profession is to work
with others and he feels his membership of CIWEM has helped him in
this respect. He says: 'We are now working at the edge of
difficulties, facing issues of climate change, population growth,
food and water security. CIWEM encourages experts from many
disciplines to work together. We will only be able to manage
the challenges ahead if we respect the disciplines of others.
Listening to others is hugely important. CIWEM brings
together many kinds of ologists and that is what is required if we
want to help solve the problems of the world.'