Virginia City Flume in Carson City, Nevada

Weathered remnants of the old wooden box flume.

Virginia City, Nevada, was a boomtown that sprang up during the silver bonanza of the Comstock Lode. The town quickly outgrew its local water supplies, and an elaborate project was devised to bring in water from the Carson Range, the shoulder of the Sierra Nevada just east of Lake Tahoe. It involved flumes, reservoirs, tunnels, and an “inverted siphon,” a length of pipe that dropped down to cross Lakeview Pass.

The height of the pipe on the Carson Range side provided enough hydraulic head to raise the output water level such that it could cross the Virginia Range to the east through a pass. Hence the entire system could run by gravity. For this to work, the pipe at the low point in Lakeview Pass had to withstand pressures of close to 800 pounds per square inch, and that it did so was a triumph of 19th-century engineering. Remarkably, the system was in operation by the mid-1870s. In essence, it remains in use today, having been upgraded piecemeal over the years.

The outlet of the siphon fed directly into a wooden flume that came down to a reservoir at the pass over the Virginia Range, from which it could then flow to Virginia City. This flume was in use up to the 1950s, when it was finally replaced with an 8-inch steel pipe. The old flume wasn’t removed, however, and its weathered remains are still visible.

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