Feds warn boaters, swimmers to stay out of potash canals on Bonneville Salt Flats

Parts of Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats are carved into canals and ponds used by Intrepid Potash to extract valuable minerals from the rich brines coursing through them.

Now, intrepid thrill-seekers are using the canals’ saline azure waters near Wendover for paddling and floating, prompting warnings from the Bureau of Land Management and various state agencies to keep out — even though the land is largely public.

The canals were designed for an industrial purpose, and they may be unsafe for boating and swimming, according to BLM officials who oversee much of the land.

These canals, which move brines from mining areas to evaporation ponds, “are not appropriate for recreation due to the canals’ industrial design and other unknown hazards,” said Kevin Oliver, the BLM’s West Desert District manager. “We care about the safety of our public land visitors and encourage the public to avoid industrial areas and mining sites on public lands.”

Videos posted on YouTube and Instagram show people using kayaks and paddleboards to explore the canals north of Interstate 80, adding to the canals’ popularity just as social media posts have invited hordes into formerly hidden hiking destinations all over Utah.

Intrepid Potash holds permits on federal, state and private lands to extract potash from evaporative ponds south of I-80. It’s staffers have been confronting those looking to enter the canals, urging them to leave, according to recent news reports.

State agencies seeking to put an end to canal paddling there include the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, the Department of Transportation and the Utah Highway Patrol.

Canal users have been parking along I-80, which is both dangerous and illegal.

The canals themselves cross multiple jurisdictions, including private land, state trust land and federal land. Access requires crossing private land that may have “no trespassing” signs.

It remains unclear whether recreational use of the canals is actually illegal, but users could be cited if they pass no-trespassing signs to get to them, the BLM says.