Restore Bonneville hopes new data will speed salt flat replenishment

Brandan Gillogly

The ongoing pursuit to preserve the Bonneville Salt Flats has scored another victory and SEMA, along with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Utah Geological Survey (UGS), and Intrepid Potash Inc. marked more progress in restoring the area’s precious salt. A new well installed in the summer of 2021, along with equipment that will collect data on evaporation, will inform the preservation and replenishment of the salt flats as the Restore Bonneville program kicks off.

Brandan Gillogly

The Bonneville Salt Flats are a must-see natural wonder, even if you aren’t a land speed racing fan. The vast white landscape and environments of its kind are incredibly rare. Located just east of the Nevada/Utah border town of Wendover, the salt flats are the bottom of an ancient lake. The hard flat surface that forms each year after the rains makes for a fantastic racing surface, something land speed racers have taken advantage of for more than 100 years. The first Speed Week was held there in 1949.

Brandan Gillogly

While the salt flats are still quite vast, they have shrunk to 1/3 their former size and the salt thickness has diminished due to several factors, forcing land speed racers to move and shorten their courses over the years. The BLM cites several reasons for the shrinking salt, including shifts in rain and climate, but one very visible change that has taken place is the removal of potash from the salt, for use as fertilizer. The potash mining began in the early 1900s and went seemingly unchecked into the 1960s when ditches were dug to collect brine from the salt flats north of Interstate 80, near the land speed racing course. Intrepid Potash Inc. now leases land south of Interstate 80 and has been pumping processed brine back to the salt flats since 1997.

The new well and measuring equipment are some of the first actions completed by Restore Bonneville, a joint venture between BLM and DNR that will be operated by Intrepid Potash Inc. with the aim to better focus restoration practices and regrow the salt flats. With a better understanding of the environment, Restore Bonneville can learn how to best manage the pumping of brine and increase the volume returned to the salt flats.

Ed Umland Streamliner Bonneville
Credit: Brandan Gillogly

The bulk of funding for the venture will come from federal and state appropriations but Save the Salt, a 501(c)(3) organization, has also been a big help in preserving Bonneville for future racers. Visit their site for more information if you’d like to help out.

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