VIRGINIA CITY - Time has run out for 3.2 miles of Storey County water pipeline, a critical link in Virginia City's only water delivery system.
A series of about 20 leaks developed over the past few days and the water supply was cut off about 9 a.m. Tuesday for repairs.
Problems began Sunday when Storey officials repaired about six leaks. Following that, Public Works Director Richard Bacus discovered about 20 more.
A rusty and aging pipeline, not vandalism, is considered the primary culprit at this point, according to civil engineer George Georgeson, who called the problem "a concern."
"We may have to replace a portion of pipeline temporarily," Georgeson said. "If it cannot be fixed, they'll have to put out a notice, asking that people limit the amount of water they use."
"I just hope we don't have any fires," said Barbara Bowers, administrative assistant Storey County Public Works Department.
The badly decaying pipe is being repaired with temporary clamps: rubber-lined metal saddles strapped to the pipe to stop leaks, Georgeson said.
Water reserves - held in Five-Mile reservoir, a 500,000-gallon tank nearby and tanks at the treatment plant - should last about three to four days, giving officials ample time provided there are no complications, according to Georgeson.
Fortunately, Storey County received $1.5 million in grants in late August to replace the pipe. Unfortunately, there have been delays.
The system was constructed in the 1870s, and concerns over historical preservation have been expressed by the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land the pipeline traverses.
A pipeline replaced open flumes in 1957 when the system was owned by a private company. It's those pipes that are failing, and scheduled to be replaced with a new pipeline that will follow the original and historic route, a 3.7-mile stretch from McClellan Peak to Five-Mile Reservoir, but not before historical preservation concerns are addressed, according to Georgeson.
"The Bureau of Land Management needs to give those easements to Storey County or the problems will multiply," he warned.
The system was sold to the state of Nevada by a private company in 1963. Under a contract agreement, Storey County is responsible for any repairs and replacement from Highway 395 to Five-Mile Reservoir.