Rural Nevada’s aging infrastructure sees alumni-led improvements


Being able to fund large-scale projects like this ensures that communities like Yerington that want to grow have the ability to grow, create jobs and prosper. – Lucas Ingvoldstad, USDA-RD State Director (BS Psychology ’05, MS Land Use Planning ’11)

The small rural town of Yerington is about an hour and a half southeast of Reno, Nevada along the Walker River. The population is just under 3,200, including nearly 500 members of the Yerington Paiute tribe. In the United States, small rural towns like Yerington depend on infrastructure that is often as old as the towns themselves. And while that may explain the charm of these quaint communities, with their main streets still intact and their buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, it also means that these communities often rely on 100-year-old sewer and water systems. year. In 2015, the City of Yerington began the process of securing $39 million in funding from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Mission Area (USDA-RD) to replace the system, and in 2020, a team of engineers inaugurated a complete overhaul. of 120,000 feet of water and sewer pipes, some of which have been buried since 1905. The work is expected to be completed in November 2022, and those who have contributed to this multi-faceted project – including many former University of Nevada, Reno – will have helped bring new hope to this unique Nevada city.

Above: This circa 1920 map of Yerington depicts the original water system being replaced 100 years later. It describes a “pump and gravity system” with “7 wells drilled into a 75,000 gallon steel reservoir…110 feet above the city” with a pumping capacity of 350 gallons per minute. He also names much of what engineers found in the ground during excavation and surveying, including “wooden stave pipes” or redwood piping – slatted redwood bound in wire. iron and formed into a pipe. Two sections of this wooden pipe have been cleaned and preserved as historical objects. The map shows the system as it was originally laid in 1911. (Map courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Archive).

Below: Nevada USDA-RD team members visit one of the remaining sewer line construction sites. They are, from left to right: Pierre Hippolyte (former student of the American Military University and of the Global Campus doctoral school at the University of Maryland), Lucas Ingvoldstad (BS Psychology ’05, MS Land Use Planning ’11) , Gus Wegren (BS Agriculture Economics ’86) and Ian Sims (BS Biology ’10, MS Civil and Environmental Engineering ’21).

USDA-RD Nevada Group

“Yerington holds a sweet place in my heart,” said USDA-RD State Director Lucas Ingvoldstad (BS Psychology ’05, MS Land Use Planning ’11). As a graduate student in the Department of Geography’s master’s program in land use planning, Ingvoldstad’s research was based on the Walker River watershed near Yerington. “Coming back here to work on a project in the community feels like I’ve come full circle. Being able to fund large-scale projects like this ensures that communities like Yerington that want to grow have the ability to grow, create jobs and prosper.

Dig into history

Collapsed sewer lines, blockages, inoperative shut-off valves, gas lines drilled into sewer lines, even slatted redwood water lines shaped into pipe and tied with wire – these are just the some of the problems Reno Farr West Engineering found when evaluating the city’s water and sewer system.

“To justify the seriousness of the problem, we sent cameras to all the sewers in the city. Of the 120,000 feet of pipe, we were only able to film 58,000 feet due to blockages and line breaks,” said Matt Van Dyne, senior civil engineer and vice president of operations at Farr West (‘ 07 BS Civil Engineering).

It was clear that the system could not be repaired with patchwork or general maintenance. At one point, it was estimated that the city was losing 26% of its water to the faulty system. It needed to be replaced and the city needed help to do so.

Engineer holding an old horseshoe

Above: Farr West engineer Logan Garling (BS Geological Engineering ’16) holds one of many old horseshoes found during excavation for the project. The team found old barrels, bottles, remnants of abandoned infrastructure like concrete canals and more. Anything over fifty years old is considered historic, including old sewer and water pipes. The engineering team occasionally had to dig, clean, and preserve parts of the old system, including redwood water pipes made of redwood slats formed into a pipe and tied together with wire.

Below: Matt Van Dyne (’07 BS Civil Engineering) of Farr West Engineering and Corey Comeaux (’16 BS Mining Engineering) of Q&D Construction to oversee the installation of a new water main. Farr West Engineering, a local Reno engineering firm, and Q&D Construction were selected for the project through a rigorous tender and approval process with USDA-RD. (Jennifer Kent)

“We’ve had so many water leaks, so many sewer problems in this town. It was absurd. The project seemed incredibly big to undertake,” said Yerington Public Works Manager Jay Flakus. “Communities like this can never afford to fix their own infrastructure without federal money. You’re not going to have a bake sale and replace a sewer line.

After four years of surveying, planning and permitting, the city submitted its proposal to USDA-RD and was approved for a $33 million loan with an interest rate of less than 2% and 6 million dollars in grants. The city contributed just over $2 million of its own funds, bringing the total amount for the project to $41.6 million. The project is the largest USDA linear project in the state of Nevada, with funding more than three times the state’s annual allocation.

“Without these federal grants and low-interest loans, none of this work is possible,” said Ian Sims, USDA-RD State Engineer (BS Biology ’10, MS Civil and Environmental Engineering ’21). The amount these cities earn from taxpayers is not enough to make these multi-million dollar infrastructure improvements.

Group in front of Yerington Town Hall

The massive rehabilitation project required a collaboration between the USDA-RD Nevada team, local elected officials from the Yerington Paiute Tribe and the City of Yerington, Farr West Engineering, Q&D Construction, and city residents. Director of Public Works Jay Flakus (back row, center) credits the former city manager with starting the huge project, noting that “in local government, a motivated person can make things happen.” (Jennifer Kent)

A light at the end of the sewer line

With the funding in place, the shovels finally hit the ground in October 2020. Two years later, the evidence can be seen on nearly every city street in the form of freshly laid sidewalk, new vents brilliant fires and a very functional water and waste system. . Construction is underway with some streets still filled with engineers, diggers and 24ft trenches. The town’s mayor, John Garry, compares it to a house renovation.

“When you start planning a home renovation, it’s all very exciting at first,” Garry said. “But in the end, when everything is a mess and your house is turned upside down, you just want to get everyone out of there!”

Garry’s sentiment is shared by many in Yerington, and managing project fatigue while keeping the community informed and involved has been key to the project’s success. Before construction began, residents were mostly unaware of major problems with their water and waste systems.

“If a pipe breaks in your neighborhood, it’s a problem for you but not for anyone else,” Flakus said. “Farr West has prepared a presentation to show the extent of the problem. We presented to the tribe, we had community meetings, town council meetings. The best attendance we had was at the tribal meeting. The Yerington Paiute Tribe has been a notable supporter of the system’s rehabilitation, and of the $6 million in grants used for the project, $3.7 million has been earmarked for the tribe.

Elwood Emm

Yerington Paiute Tribe Chairman Elwood Emm, whose daughter started college in the fall of 2022, stands on freshly packed gravel above a new water main that serves the elders center of the tribe as well as the tribal colony. The monument next to Emm honors the Paiute religious leader, Wovoka, known for founding the second Ghost Dance movement. Emm is acutely aware of the issues that can arise when infrastructure fails. During his first term as tribal chairman in 1997, the settlement was flooded by 6 feet of standing rainwater from an overflowing canal across the street. “I was initiated by the flood,” Emm jokes. (Jennifer Kent)

Elwood Emm in front of the monument

“Our water and sewer lines have been there since the early 1900s. It’s been a long time,” said Yerington Paiute Tribe Chairman Elwood Emm. “We had so many problems with the water because of the trees in the center of our colony. I remember it when I was a kid. »

Main Street was one of the most difficult parts of the project for the engineers. Van Dyne described starting construction on Main Street as “ripping off the bandage” knowing how it would impact businesses and residents. Carol Rilling works at 1 S. Main Street in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places selling antiques, jewelry, custom-refurbished clothing, and other eccentricities.

Carole Rilling

Bella Le Crow, where Yerington resident Carol Rilling works, is located at 1 South Main Street in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places – the IOOF Building. The 2nd photo below is from around 1920. The architect of the IOOF building was Frederic DeLongchamps who also designed the Mackay Mines building on the University campus. Rilling is one of 3,200 residents of Yerington who now has a modern sewer and water system. (Jennifer Kent)

The storefront of Bella Le Crow
1 main street south

“I think the project is great because it improves the town of Yerington. It had to be done for the people of Yerington,” Rilling said. “When they were working in front of Main Street and the road was closed, it hurt financially, but it has to be done and they do a really good job.”

“This project was a huge investment of time, resources and attention,” Ingvoldstad said. “Everyone deserves fair access to modern systems. It’s amazing to see a city rally behind a project like this.”

old sewer pipes

This article was originally published in the 2022′Live a life of discovery’ College of Science magazine under the title “From the Ground Up”.


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