FRESH water remains as important to South Cumbria’s towns and villages now as it was 150 years ago when many of the first piped water and sewage systems were built.

Victorian cast iron may have been largely replaced by modern plastic pipes but how well they operate is still vital to our health.

How rapidly growing towns paid for and organised their water supplies was explored in a talks day by Dr Alan Crosby organised by the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University.

He said: “The access to fresh water and the access to areas for waste disposal became ever more difficult as communities grew.”

In 1994 The Mail described the change from iron pipes to those made of polyethylene in Church Walk, Ulverston.

They were said to be much less likely to burst.

On a much larger scale in March 1993 was the use of a helicopter to bring in new blue plastic pipes for water main replacement in the Duddon Valley.

It was part of a £15m project to improve water supplies to North West Water’s 90,000 customers in the Barrow area and called for the renewal of pipes between the Ulpha treatment works and Duddon Bridge.

One of the biggest current engineering projects in the county involves replacing Ennerdale and West Cumbrian bore holes with Thirlmere as the source of tap water for Millom and Copeland.

A new pipeline is being constructed from the Bridge End water treatment works at Thirlmere to Summergrove, between Whitehaven and Cleator Moor.

A display board at one of United Utilities’ worksites at Keswick notes: “West Cumbria currently relies on water sources on its doorstep, including Ennerdale Water – a natural site of significant environmental importance.

“However, by 2022 we will have to stop extracting water from Ennerdale altogether.

“Our project will help provide a sustainable water supply by utilising Thirlmere a the new source of water.”