Wet winter leads to flooding at Bonneville Salt Flats

Jan 24, 2023, 11:06 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2023, 9:53 am

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah — The Bonneville Salt Flats have flooded after all the rain Utah has had this winter.

Geologist Jeremiah Bernau with the Utah Geological Survey has studied the Salt Flats for six years. He said this is the wettest he’s ever seen it.

“It’s extremely diluted,” he said. “There’s a lot of water that’s come into the system recently.”

It’s not unusual to see some flooding out at the Salt Flats. Last year’s Speed Week event was cancelled because of it, but Bernau said the amount of water that’s collected at the Salt Flats right now is significant.

“There’s a much deeper area that can get maybe one to two feet deep. As you go away from that, it gets a lot thinner out to the edges,” he said.

The usually desolate, white raceway now looks more like a giant puddle. Bernau said ice has been spotted on the surface of the floodwaters.

“All that salt that dissolves when we have all this rain, it’s not going anywhere,” Bernau said.

Visitors still flock to the Salt Flats, but the unusually high water makes some people, particularly those in the racing community, nervous.

“What is most likely to lead to a racing event being cancelled is if we have a rainfall occurring in the summer,” Bernau said.

He said having this much water at the Salt Flats is a great thing to see.

“Having a wetter climate, or more rainfall, is better for the long-term health of the salt crust,” he said.

The water will go, but the salt will stay.

“I’m actually optimistic that this upcoming year, if we have a really nice, hot summer that evaporates all the brine, will be good for racing,” Bernau said.

As for the photo opportunities out at the flats, Bernau said even with the flooding, they’re still there.

“I’ve seen people do some amazing things with the reflection when there’s that shallow water out there.”

The UGS recently installed a photo station at the end of the Salt Flats access road off Interstate 80 Exit 4.

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Wet winter leads to flooding at Bonneville Salt Flats