Editor’s note: In response to our November 30 story regarding a recent University of Utah study on the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Save the Salt Foundation and Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) sent us the following letter. For more information on efforts to preserve the Bonneville Salt Flats, and its racing heritage, visit SaveTheSalt.org.
The Save the Salt Coalition welcomes the Bonneville Salt Flats study as an important contribution to the ongoing effort to better understand the geology of this national treasure. The Save the Salt Coalition was founded by racers, businesses and community members to protect Bonneville. While a separate article published along with the study mentions motor vehicles and track preparation as a potential contributor to current salt conditions, the study’s emphasis is on millions of tons of salt that have been transferred from the northern Bonneville basin over decades as a result of legal leases issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the 1960s.
The study provides useful context. The Bonneville Salt Flats Race Track is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places primarily due to the technological breakthroughs it made possible for the automotive industry. In 1986, the BLM designated 30,203 acres as an “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” (ACEC) and a Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) to ensure the future of safe racing activities on the salt flats. Despite these designations, the salt crust has steadily deteriorated. Today, the current surface is measured in inches rather than feet, and the race track area has decreased from 13 miles to 8 miles or less due to the thinning of the surface crust.
The BLM leases issued in the 1960s allowed salt brine to be legally transferred off-site for potash extraction without returning some of the salt byproduct. Thanks to the current mining company, a strong pumping program is now sending salt brine to the racing area. However, the volume needs to be increased to overcome previous decades of neglect.
There is good news. The Save the Salt Coalition, Intrepid Potash LLC and BLM, along with members of the U.S. Congress and Utah state lawmakers, are putting together a 10-year program to dramatically increase the pumping program beginning as early as 2021. Stay tuned for additional information as the program is finalized. Meanwhile, the Coalition will welcome a future study that demonstrates a healthier and expanding Bonneville Salt Flats as a result.
Louise Ann Noeth
Save the Salt Public Information Officer
Specialty Equipment Market Association