Great Salt Lake Information System

Skip Navigation Links
Map of the Great Salt Lake Basin
49,117 km2 / 18,964 mi2

Minimum:  1,277 m / 4,190 ft
Maximum:  3,972 m / 13,031 ft
Range:  2,695 m / 8,841 ft

Minimum:  127 mm / 5 in
Maximum:  1,245 mm / 49 in
Average:  279 mm / 11 in

West Desert Basin

The Great Salt Lake Desert Basin is a vast desert area of over 18,000 square miles that expands south, west, and north of the Great Salt Lake. The basin is the most arid region of the state of Utah, with a limited number of perennial streams. Technically, this area drains to the Great Salt Lake; however, based on USGS studies and modeling that have taken place, the lake receives only approximately 10,000 to 20,000 acre-ft per year of surface runoff and groundwater flow from this part of its contributing area.

This watershed is best known for the Bonneville Salt Flats, which is one of the most unique natural features in Utah. Stretching over 30,000 acres, the Bonneville Salt Flats is a fragile resource administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Thousands of visitors, commercial filmmakers, and of course, high-speed auto racers, make the Bonneville Salt Flats a world famous destination. The Bonneville Salt Flats and the Great Salt Lake are remnants of ancient Lake Bonneville. Wind and water combine to create the flat surface of salt. Each winter, a shallow layer of standing water floods the surface of the salt flats. During spring and summer, the water slowly evaporates while winds smooth the surface into a vast, nearly perfect flat plain.

Streams in this basin have very little flow, except in the snowmelt runoff months of late April through early July, when peak flows occur. However, during drought periods, the streams in this basin carry virtually no runoff during any month. The mean annual precipitation for the basin is estimated to be less than 12 inches, and ranges from less than 5 inches over much of the lower elevation area to approximately 50 inches in the mountains of the basin. It is estimated that the mean water yield from this basin is less than 8 percent of the annual average precipitation, resulting in less than 1 inch of the total precipitation being runoff.

Source:  Utah Water Atlas

L A N D   C O V E R K M 2 P E R C E N T
Urban 72 0.1
Forest 5,170 11
Rangeland 26,748 54
Agriculture 1,088 2
Other 16,040 33
TOTAL 49,117 100

L A N D   O W N E R S H I P K M 2 P E R C E N T
Bureau of Land Management 26,704 54
Forest Service 1,798 4
State 3,215 7
Private 8,968 18
Other 8,429 17
TOTAL 49,112 100