The water sector needs the help of engineers to develop plans and innovative solutions for the maintenance of one of our most essential commodities.

Today we hear of all the challenges facing the sector, from inefficient leaky infrastructure to an urgent focus on sustainability thanks to the rapidly changing climate.

Our guest has been a leader in this area for 25 years since founding his company in Loughrea, and has had success not just here in Ireland but across Europe and to the USA. He is Group Managing Director of Glanua, Karl Zimmerer.


  • Working with water as a valuable resource and commodity
  • The history of Glanua and the group MD’s career path
  • Innovation to meet customer needs and regulatory standards
  • Balancing supply, sanitation and sustainability in improving treatment plants
  • Where to improve water knowledge as an interested engineer


Karl Zimmerer is Group Managing Director of Glanua. Karl has over 25 years experience in the design, construction and operation and maintenance of water and wastewater infrastructure throughout Ireland, with over 15 years in a Senior Management position. Karl’s professional qualifications include an Honours Degree in Structural Engineering and a Master Degree in Project Management.

Karl is a founding member of Glanagua LTD and has successfully developed the business into one of the leading companies in the water sector in Ireland, providing a full range of services throughout the industry.


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Engineers Journal AMPLIFIED is produced by for Engineers Ireland.



It is a very expensive resource that is absolutely essential to life. - Karl Zimmerer


It is something that requires a significant level of investment to ensure that that is provided at a certain standard and a lot of governments aren't allocating enough for that. - Karl Zimmerer


Innovation is something that we feel very, very passionate about, because innovation can be how you dig the hole, how you construct the tank, it can be about the technology, the pump system, the mortar that drives the pump, water efficiency, setpoint and understanding what the needs are for your customers. - Karl Zimmerer


There's absolutely no stupid questions. Don't come to me with questions, come to me with solutions, and just ask me to do I think the solutions are right - Karl Zimmerer



#water #Ireland #engineering #challenge #wastewater #treatmentplant #sustainability


For your convenience, we include an automated AI transcription

Dusty Rhodes  00:00

Right now on AMPLIFIED, with such an abundance of water literally all around us. Why is the water sector still facing huge engineering problems?

Karl Zimmerer  00:09

You know, it is something that requires a significant level of investment to ensure that that is provided at a certain standards and a lot of governments aren't allocating enough for that.

Dusty Rhodes  00:22

Hi there, my name is Dusty Rhodes. Welcome to AMPLIFIED the Engineers Journal Podcast. Today we're looking at the key water sector of engineering, which faces all kinds of challenges from inefficient leaky infrastructure to an urgent focus on sustainability, thanks to the rapidly changing climate around us. Our guest has been a leader in this area for 25 years since founding his company in Loughrea, Galway, which has been a huge success not only just here in Ireland, but across Europe and the USA as well. It's a pleasure to welcome and hopefully learn from the group MD of Glenua, Karl Zimmerer, how're you doing, Karl?

Karl Zimmerer  00:56

Great to see. Thanks very much for having me.

Dusty Rhodes  01:01

So listen, tell me I'm sure you've heard of Michael Burry, the man who famously predicted the 2008 crash. He said, after that, he said, right, you know, what I'm going to invest in next is water. He said water will become the most valuable resource on the planet. Would you agree?

Karl Zimmerer  01:17

Absolutely. I think the changing regulations around the standards of particularly drinking water that we have to provide to the populations and society in general, is an ever changing challenge for us. I think the discharges of wastewater to the environment, whether it's to the sea to the receiving rivers and lakes, is an ongoing challenge and continually evolving. So we're lucky we have an abundance of both here in Ireland, but there are certainly other parts of the world where water recycling water reuse are absolutely going to be essential to meet the needs of future society and future generations.

Dusty Rhodes  02:00

Do you think water will ever become a commodity like gold is

Karl Zimmerer  02:06

it is a very expensive commodity, it is a very expensive resource that is absolutely essential to life. And we've had huge debates in Ireland, about that over the last 10 years to 20 years. It takes a lot of investment to maintain an assets that can adequately abstract water from whatever source, treat it to the correct standards, manage the networks, distribution to people's taps, collect their wastewater, convey that wastewater treatment plants, and safely discharged that to the environment where there is no adverse effects. That is a pretty significant cost of providing that essential, critical resource for life. But you know, a lot of other countries value that an awful lot more. We found it in Ireland directly out of central central Exchequer funds, the water utility model is there are loads of versions of it throughout the world. The UK is not very best placed to use as a reference at the moment. But certainly, you know, it is something that requires a significant level of investments to ensure that that is provided at a certain standard. And a lot of governments aren't allocating no farther than

Dusty Rhodes  03:26

pan. It's not exactly like it's something that we can live without this new but you've been working in this area for a long time and with the new as well. Tell me a little bit of that the quick history of the company.

Karl Zimmerer  03:36

Yeah, it's my work career. When I when I qualified in the mid 90s. Back in that time, there was another huge amount of work around I worked for six months for free. My first project was setting out the bottom half of the end 50 for land acquisition and routing and then progressed into civil engineering. My background is structural engineering. How did I get involved in water services? I built a lot of the structures and infrastructure around that in the 90s and noughties. In the early noughties. A lot of the water services projects that were procured were procured based on the specialist disciplines. So the civil engineering contractor was appointed first. The process and mica mechanical electrical instrumentation control contractor or consultant was was a separate appointment to go and deliver whether a water wastewater treatment plant or pipeline project in the late 90s and early noughties, the concept of design, build and operate and maintain came into Ireland driven very much by the significant infrastructure and asset deficit we had. The government realized that they had to bring in contractors who had the design, build and operate and maintain experience because we were bringing in huge new technologies and new systems and processes that were required across the country. So That model of design, build, operate and maintain was introduced. And there was very few contractors, engineering consultants and contractors who had the ability to be able to do the whole range of services around delivering of that design build. So, I was initially involved in an organization that targeted specifically the design, build, operate and maintain market to provide a one stop shop contracting entity, which are the engineering ability to take raw water abstraction through to treatment, storage, distribution, network management. And similarly, the wastewater collecting all the sewage conveying it to wastewater treatment plants, and then safely treating it and discharging it out. So it was driven very much by a need in the industry. And subsequently, when a creator Glen agua in 2007, it was to focus in on the engineering solutions around that whole water cycle. So from the roller abstraction, all the way out to the effluent. And there was a very big need for it at the time. And so we've gone from strength to strength, it's been rebranded in the last couple of years to glenella focused on that whole industrial and municipal water sector.

Dusty Rhodes  06:17

When you look back on everything that you've achieved to date, and you've plenty more to go, which particular projects that you were involved in, kind of stand out in your mind.

Karl Zimmerer  06:29

I look back over my career, and there's been significant project milestones that ultimately led to it, whether it be the rural water sector and the DB or bundles, which those water treatment plants dosti had significant challenges in the country and for Ireland inky as well, where there was a huge range of raw water sources that require process engineering, to be adapted to cater for those specific requirements. The rural water sector is a phenomenal part of the country where these this groups gain sector provide huge portions of the country we treated water historically, but subsequently as as we progressed into Klonoa, since 2007, again, is is identifying some of those range of services that can really meet the needs of society. And we've undertaken quite a lot of of bundled regional water treatment plants or number of water treatments within one contract for whole counties where we would operate the acids and the challenges around that and dealing with with the local authority, but from the process engineering, the hydraulic and mechanical, electrical instrumentation, control and automation, that experience which in Ireland, we've a unique set of challenges. We've a lot of groundwater with our surface water. We've karst limestone regions, which on the west coast of Ireland, where a lot of that surface water infiltrates into pristine groundwater, which makes the water very difficult to treat, because it varies quite substantially. Okay, that led to as the business grew, we expanded into the UK, but we had a very unique project that all of their competency said led us to a position where we had a had a requirement to upgrade to very large Watership plans in the northwest of London, where they had pristine backhoe for sources that had very little treatment requirement. But a tunnel boring machine to construct the high speed rail line from London to Birmingham was going to tunnel right through the center of this aquifer and create quite high risk to the safety of the trees of the RO water source. But based on our experience of the west of Ireland, Charis limestone and understanding the the range of impacts that can happen to groundwater sources arising out of a pollutants, which would be the bentonite slurry associated with tunnel boring machines, but also also surface water infiltration allowed our engineering team come up with the absolute fit for purpose solution to provide an upgrade to those treatment plans to ensure that there will save water provided for the customers that water company and what was the solution? It was a mixture of membrane technology which is very advanced treatment to provide a barrier to quite elevated levels of particularly turbidity and other solids that that could arise out of it. It was a no no on this is not something that has been frequently experience. So having a pristine water of course with a big construction activity going through it. So there was a huge amount of hydrogeological and geotechnical evaluation to understand what those impacts would be to engineer the exact solution. It had to be delivered in an extremely tight timescale because the tunnel boring machine was coming at a particular date. So in engineering that solution, which was very much based in offsite, assembling solutions, designed for manufacture or assembly, that whole digital construction piece was the only way to operate these plants within the timescale and extremely tight footprints. So that was the probably headline project that a lot of our experience over the years don't see lead. Having that perfect capacity.

Dusty Rhodes  10:21

You strike me as a man who relishes a challenge, and then coming up with a unique solution for it. And I also know as well, from looking at your website, that you have an innovation center in Navin, what exactly is it that you innovate there,

Karl Zimmerer  10:36

there's a understanding the needs of your customers, and to ensure that you stay ahead of the regulatory drivers that are requiring an awful lot of the water cheap metal grids can involve having cutting edge technology solutions that will deal with the sort of pee fast is a very topical thing that you hear from the states that's now coming into the Ireland in the UK, which is the sometimes characterize these forever chemicals. So understanding the range of treatment capabilities to be able to deal with those type of pollutants and in in your treatment plants is something that we're looking at quite actively, but innovation can be the cutting edge technologies that we're looking at, but also simply for doing things more efficiently. And, you know, the membrane technology I refer to when that and that project is often more regularly used in wastewater treatment, but can equally be applied in drinking water treatment, which was the first time that it had been done in that type of scenario. So innovation is something that we feel very, very passionate about, because innovation can be how you dig the hole, how you construct the tank, it can be both the technology, the pump system, the motor that drives the pump, water efficiency, setpoint and understanding what the needs are for your customers. One thing that's quite topical to see at the moment around the whole sustainability side is is we have prepared, we've upgraded a wastewater treatment plant for a small town and southwest of the country. And we have a full compliant, very, very efficient wastewater treatment plant. And we have presented its exact replica of that same Wastewater Treatment Plant achieving the net zero outcomes. Now, the challenge for us as an engineering solutions provider, but also our client is that plant will cost x and it will deliver it that net zero carbon solution will cost x multiply by three. So we have this constant challenge around that innovation piece as well as understanding where we're going as an industry. Do we want the net zero carbon today? Because if we do it's going to cost an awful awful lot more than what the current regulatory drivers require for that particular acid breakdown. So

Dusty Rhodes  13:02

how do you strike that balance then between call Stan and thinking of the future and making that investment now,

Karl Zimmerer  13:09

we've we've engaged quite a lot with the water utilities in the water companies in the UK, again, that's that's very topical at the moment are on their their funding challenges and half wash a green at certain rates, they can charge the customers and whether that allows them formed adequately their investment is, is offset against a what the regulator wants them to achieve, but be they're all committed to achieving net zero goals as is shared in Ireland and doing some phenomenal pieces of engineering. But that costs a huge amount to do all of the water companies inish Garin is probably doing probably some of the best work of what we're experiencing right now are need to invest to get their assets to a particular standard. And that's their core investment deliverable at this moment in time to achieve safe drinking water, good wastewater treatment to ensure that there's no pollutants and develop those assets to be to cater for economic growth and housing, which is very topical in the country here. offset against Well, we would like to have zero energy output over the Tortex evaluation over 10 to 1520 years, is a real difficult balancing act. And it's finding that range of technologies and it may come out to the shopping list where some of the customers and clients will say we we'd like some of that, but we can't afford to do that right now. So it's identifying the right solutions and technologies for the right location. Whether it's a very, very large wastewater treatment plant for 3 million population equivalent in London, or it's a small 500 P village in southwest of Cary. It's it's a very difficult, challenging balancing act for those customers and the regulatory regulators. You mentioned

Dusty Rhodes  15:01

that we're doing quite well in Ireland in relation to water. What Why do you think we are managing so well here?

Karl Zimmerer  15:08

What haven't been involved with here since the 90s. And having upgraded water treatment plants, particularly on in water treatments that were on boil water notices for a long number of years, you know, there was huge negative publicity, you know, particularly at the creation of Arab water knowledge carrying around some of those legacy issues. You don't hear that much anymore. The work that they've done in removing a lot of those risks has been phenomenal. They've done national disinfection programs to ensure that all of the water producing assets have sufficient disinfection to ensure that the water is safe to drink as it goes out into distribution. There's always going to be challenges, there's always going to be unique circumstances around ageing assets that require interventions to ensure that the water is kept safe and clean. But when you look at where they started from, which was suffering from 20 to 30 to 40 years of underinvestment, that money came from the central essential Exchequer funding. So there was housing that was held, there was schools, were all competing for that central pot of money and coming off to an election dusty, nobody caught a ribbon or a mantle. It was a very good phrase I heard recently. So in the context of of what, what they have achieved and what they've done, have there leaks Absolutely. But they've reduced leaks substantially within areas. And they're dealing with Victoria, your pipelines, which is the exact same as they've done and spent billions in London and Birmingham and Manchester, replacing and we're still in catch up mode, but they've done some really good work, which is often missed, because it's the bad news stories we report on quite a lot more than than an awful lot. The good news stories.

Dusty Rhodes  16:56

Well, it's good to hear somebody speaking positively about it. Where do you think we are at balancing a supply of water along with sanitation, and then of course, keeping sustainability in mind? Well, we're

Karl Zimmerer  17:07

currently working on two of the largest working on upgrades on two of the largest water treatment plants in the Dublin region. On behalf of ich Garin and really doing some really great upgrade works. When you are at the coalface of working on a day to day appears basis with the people who manage the water supply into Dublin, you are in awe of the work they do. It is in such a fine balance of the waters of available water supply from predominantly the Liffey into Dublin compared to the demand that goes out. And all you need is one, one or two shock events, which could be a drought where everybody leaves their garden hoses on and the demand goes through the roof. So balancing, finding, at a macro level, the right solutions, like bringing water from Shannon, it's they have no Ireland and have no choice, we have absolutely no choice we will run out of water, as growth continues in the Dublin region. If they do not continue to invest. Yes, they can continue investing and avoiding leaks. But that is absolutely essential. So in terms of that supply and demand issue, particularly within the Dublin region, it's absolutely essential, it's on a knife edge. And there's some phenomenal work going on to ensure that it's continued. But we will see more holes, pipe bands and things like that into the future, which is commonplace in Paris of London and the UK. And if

Dusty Rhodes  18:33

things are tight, then, you know, kind of integrating sustainability principles must be hugely important to your projects. How do you do that? Well,

Karl Zimmerer  18:42

it's ensuring that we have, you know, one of the projects that we're doing quite a lot now, both in the UK and a number of projects in Ireland is just capturing things like the carbon footprint of the specific assets, whether it's a product or material or anything like that. And it's mapping out is that the most efficient overall carbon footprint solution, but the headline sustainability things is making existing assets last longer and deliver more efficiently. So a challenge for the industry and the sector here and particularly around the water treatment plant and Asset Delivery portfolios is to understand we'd like we'd all like shiny new yes infrastructure, whether it is ensuring that the existing assets there can be upgraded such that they provide sufficient capacity and that that is your biggest bang for your buck in terms of your overall sustainability approach is that whole reuse within the wastewater side obviously the bio resource sector is absolutely massive and and using that there are some other new technologies around hydrogen generation and using the effluent from wastewater treatment plants. So there's a lot of cutting edge work going on. Then with various organizations, though to it to look at that. So it's, it can come down to the smallest pump on the infrastructure to the biggest overall asset. And we've just commissioned a very large watershed event for a significant town or city in in Ireland now, and it is a very, very good project and reference project. To demonstrate where we've upgraded the existing app, we built new streams to increase the overall capacity and performance of that plant, while upgrading the existing infrastructure to ensure that the overall completed project can achieve the necessary outcomes as well as increased capacity and growth. So the whole sustainability and ensuring that our sustainability strategy is aligned with what our customers need is absolutely essential. But it encompasses absolutely everything, the whole life cycle cycle of a project.

Dusty Rhodes  20:57

Can I just ask on behalf of engineers who are listening at the moment? I mean, you You are Mr. Water? Because for the sake of argument, all right, you're right there, you're in it this this is your thing, all right, for engineers who kind of outside of that a little bit, but where water is going to be part of what they need to be thinking about? How should they be changing their thinking, when it comes to water as part of a construction or an infrastructure project?

Karl Zimmerer  21:23

Well, there's two elements to the question there is engineers, if nothing else, demonstrate to prospective employers that they have the ability to learn. So certainly, when you come out of college or university, as I was, as a structural engineer, I know leading a water company, so there's not a direct link, is you need to be very, very flexible in understanding the range of disciplines. So if we take any particular project, within the project lifecycle, you've process engineering, if science scientists use mechanical engineers, electrical instrument to engineers, if ice engineers, if civil engineers have structural engineers, we've engineers, we don't care what your discipline is, but you must be able to understand the overall thing. No, obviously, there's certain specialties in that and specializes in that. But in terms of ensuring how it's embedded within that infrastructure and engineering, across towns and cities and infrastructure projects, it's ensuring that we can use the water and collect the water as efficiently as possible, obviously goes, those are all things that should be no leaks, and things like that. But it just a whole reuse side of things. We do a lot of work for an industrial clients and the farmer with a huge track record and the meat and dairy sector, which are absolute colossal industries in Ireland. And a lot of those companies are now putting in for water reuse solutions in place because the water demand is absolutely colossal, we've we looked at the biggest water users are some of the biggest water users in the UK, of which strangely enough, as you sit down and look at these things, the Ottoman automobile sector in terms of washing vehicles and factories, and that whole industry is absolutely colossal. So they're desperately looking at means of of treating their effluence. But reusing it within the main process for engineering their their cars and cleaning the cars or whatever else that they use it specifically for, but it applies to every sector and every every industry.

Dusty Rhodes  23:30

So if you have that all of a sudden, you know, water is a big part of a project that you have to handle and you need to learn more. Where do you go and learn these things? What's What's your own thing? When you when you're given a challenge? You go and you know, I'm not the world expert. Now, obviously, you don't tell people you're not the world experts? The answer is always yes. And then you go off and you go, Oh, crikey. What do you do to go and make these things happen?

Karl Zimmerer  23:56

But I think it's, you know, whether it's a company or an individual, it's learning, it's it's basically understanding where the industry is going, where where the sector is going, understanding what the, you know, one of the things I mentioned earlier on is P FOSS forever chemicals, you know, so that's very cutting edge there. Now every regulator in the US, it's not yet regulated in the UK and Ireland. It's understanding. So the process engineering solutions around that are not proven yet. So it's very cutting edge technologies. So we collectively as an organization, as a collective individuals have to understand, examine, innovate around what type of engineering solutions that are around that. So it's it's going back to college in certain circumstances. And I don't mean that exactly what it is just opening up the most new technological papers understanding what it means and learning from it.

Dusty Rhodes  24:56

That's exactly what I was trying to find out. Where do you You learn from so it's a it is the latest in technological papers and industry publications, I'm sure you must do a bit of Googling and see what they're doing around the world to talk to colleagues and all those different sorts. It's

Karl Zimmerer  25:11

we we within the organization, here, we have a very active Lunch and Learn process with all our, our graduate program, we believe is probably one of the most robust in the industry in the sector. And as part of that, you know, we will have every very, very regularly some of these companies or regulators are our experts, some of which are in house and are on advisory boards for British water and advising on the water companies in the UK around emerging pollutants and emerging pharmaceuticals in some of these wastewaters. So we do that through lunch and learns we. And obviously there's there's project experience as well as part of the overall graduate program.

Dusty Rhodes  25:52

Can I wrap up by asking you about that, because you're very proactive in encouraging people to move up the ladder in the career and that Lunch and Learn is just one of the things that you do on the graduate program that you have, generally within the company and the various projects that you have around the world when you're looking for people. And when you're looking for people who want to move up the ladder? What impresses you, and then you go, he's gone up the ladder?

Karl Zimmerer  26:16

Yeah, well, there's absolutely no stupid questions, does the answer to we make it very, very clear to our graduates as we expand one of the ethos, and I probably learned from people who I worked with in the 90s and noughties, and it often comes back to don't come to me with questions, come to me with solutions, and check if those solutions don't come to your problems, come to me with solutions. And just asked me Do I think the solutions are right that those two things. Fundamentally, it gets that young engineer, whether graduate or advanced in years, it gets them fundamentally problem solving. So they have to come up with a solution, they have to come with an idea. The idea might be lunacy, and might be stupid. But that's the learning, it's better to come with an idea upfront, so that it embeds that problem solving nature, within within their, their career development, and they're taught. And second of all, it allows me an awful lot more time to be just advising them on what their solution is rather than having to solve the problem for them. But it's it's a very, very important trait. And those those young career minded people who who want to progress you will find do that far more often. And, you know, some of our absolute best developing people within the industry or, or within our business are people that might have the traditional disciplines or the top of the class results, it is that practical approach, whether it can be very design oriented, orientated, academic and or otherwise. But that practical minded problem solving, ability to be able to bring real and viable solutions to the challenges that we encounter every single day, across every day. And some of the challenges we're dealing with now, within our organization are you know, once in a lifetime engineering problems and in replacing a massive pump station, Victorian era Pump Station in London without damaging that building, which is a listed building. It's it's colossal challenges that we encountered every day, but it's that attitude of this is, this is what's in front of me, I need to go and deliver it because problems this is how I think is going to solve these problems. And two, three years into it, that engineer that this whatever qualification they have, they are phenomenally advanced and positive for our organization bad

Dusty Rhodes  28:48

So don't be shy, speak up and offer solutions that exactly what gets the attention and gets you up the ladder. And I have to say Carl, a lot of the projects that you are working on with Glenua sound absolutely fascinating. If you want to find out more about them, or about Karl or any of the topics that we spoke about today, you'll find notes and link details in the description area of this podcast, but for now, Karl Zimmerer, Group MD of Glenua, thank you very much for joining us. Thank you. If you enjoyed our podcast today, do share with a friend in the business just tell them to search for Engineers Ireland in their podcast player. The podcast is produced by for Engineers Ireland. For advanced episodes, more information on engineering across Ireland or career development opportunities there are libraries of information on the website at Until next time from myself, Dusty Rhodes. Thank you so much for listening.