Volunteer efforts like those...
Volunteer efforts like those of the Save the Salt Coalition work not only at the higher levels, but also at the very basic levels to ensure that the maximum mass of salt stays put. A team of hard-working individuals was toiling in the hot sun every afternoon during Speed Week, showing their dedication and commitment by rinsing salt buildup off cars as they leave the Flats and enter the asphalt.
The truth is, potash mining plays an important role in the American economy. Potash is a critical component in fertilizer, which accounts for about 85 percent of its use. It is also used in aluminum recycling, industrial water treatment, fire extinguishers, and a number of other industries. At issue is the need to provide a harmonious environment for mining and racing.
The BLM noticed a degradation of the BSF as early as 1952. To its credit, the BLM has removed over 104,000 acres from mineral mining of potash, salts, and other salines in the BSF area. Nevertheless, the BSF continued to shrink in size and depth over the coming decades.
In 1997, the racing community worked with the previous owner to solve the problem. Understanding the historical importance of the BSF, the mine owner pursued a five-year salt lay down replenishment program. Once they had extracted the potash from the briny salt mixture, the leftover salt brine would be pumped back to the BSF where it would dissolve in the waters that cover the basin during the wet season. Fresh salt crystals would form as the surface water evaporated during the hot months and salt water from the underground aquifer would percolate to the surface.
Brine is moved to and from...
Brine is moved to and from various above-ground settling ponds through a series of canals and ditches. Since the mining operation is south of Interstate 80, pumps are used to feed a brine mixture that is about 23 percent salt, the most the pumps can handle, to the flats on the north side.
During the five-year program, the Salt Flats increased in thickness and hardness and the project significantly improved the aquifer, which supports the salt crust volume. A BLM report credited the program with replacing the 4.2 million tons of salt estimated to have been removed during the five-year project, while providing a net addition of 2 million tons of salt to the shallow brine aquifer.
That project’s success was only half the story. It also demonstrated that the racing community, potash mining industry, and BLM could work collectively toward common goals. Unfortunately, when the five-year agreement expired, the BLM did not extend the agreement to the successor mining company, Intrepid. To its credit, Intrepid voluntarily continued a salt replenishment program, and now having become aware of the plight of the BSF, wants to partner with the racing community and BLM on a permanent program.
Putting the issue in context, Eyres observed the importance of joining forces. “They are the largest potash producer in the United States. Potash is important for fertilizer. It’s important for food supplements. We simply want to partner on a replenishment program to restore the BSF to its previous condition. If we don’t fix it, in five years there won’t be enough salt left to have another Speed Week.”
As the salt continues to disappear,...
As the salt continues to disappear, all that will be left is a mixture of gypsum mud with a little halite (rock salt) on top. The surface crust as we know it is already receding so badly that many areas just look like swirling mud pits.
As Intrepid steps forward to implement a program, it is useful to consider the BLM’s role. For generations it has not met its responsibility to protect an area designated as both a “National Landmark,” a “Special Recreation Management Area” and an “Area of Critical Environmental Concern.” These designations require the BLM to take appropriate actions to preserve this unique visual, historic, and geological resource.
Eyres says, “They’ve been telling us since 2001 that they are reviewing the current mining plan. This is 2011—10 years later. During the intervening time, they have refused to allow us to review documents or assure us that an upcoming Environmental Assessment (EA) will provide adequate protection.” The draft EA is supposed to be issued in the immediate future, providing the first opportunity for public review and comment.
As noted, a number of prominent racing community organizations have formed the “Save the Salt Coalition” to work with Intrepid and the BLM. An agreement with Intrepid is forthcoming, but some intransigence on the part of the BLM remains.
The Coalition contends that for decades, the BLM has neglected its obligations under law to protect the Salt Flats. The Coalition is now seeking tangible action. Here are two examples of how the BLM can help fix the problem: 1) Dedicate all monies received from leasing fees, licenses, or other funds toward restoration of the Bonneville Salt Flats; and 2) Identify other sources of high quality salt that can be transported and deposited on the Salt Flats. These steps will help the BSF retain its position as the most beautiful, unique, and fastest place on earth.
You can help Save the Salt by visiting the SEMA Action Network website (www.SEMASAN.com) and clicking on the “Save the Salt” link (www.SaveTheSalt.com). You’ll find easy and quick ways to contact your local, state, and federal representatives as well as the director of the BLM. Send them a short message telling them who you are and that the BLM needs to take immediate action to restore the Salt Flats. The whole deal takes literally about two minutes, and you’ll have made a huge difference. While you’re there, make sure you also check the details on current salt conditions, history, coalition members, and donation information.