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Massive lake forms in Black Rock Desert after heavy rains: Will it impact Burning Man?

After a winter and spring marked by unusually potent weather, the site of the annual Burning Man festival has been replaced by a massive lake of water stretching more than 10 miles long.

Quinn Lake forms every year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert and usually measures about a mile long but can be even smaller in droughts. This year, it spilled its banks and spread across the desert playa, running directly through the area where 70,000 festival-goers annually set up camp and display their artwork.

“Since the playa has so little elevation relief, when we have heavy winters, water ends up all over the playa,” says Mark Hall, a field manager with the Bureau of Land Management’s office in Winnemucca, Nev. that oversees the festival’s permit. Hall says there’s only three feet between the bottom of the lake bed and the playa.

A similar event occurred in 2017 and before that in 2008.

“Actually standing water out there is a rare event,” says Hall. “Generally what happens in previous years is the playa gets wet from rainfall and snowmelt and it’s usually a little muddy.”

ALSO: Rare 10-mile-long lake forms in Death Valley after heavy rains and flooding

Hall suspects the playa will be fully dried up by late June as temperatures increase and evaporation rates increase, and ground will be ready for the festival running August 25 to September 2. Burning Man also issued a statement saying they don’t think the lake will impact this year’s event.

But if freak summer thunderstorms hit the northwestern corner of Nevada and the water remains into July, the BLM says it will assess the situation.

In 2017, water remained on the playa in July and the BLM and Burning Man conducted tests to determine whether the festival attendees, who arrive in cars, motor homes and even private jets, would have a greater impact on the the environment than usual. Hall says when the ground is under a lake for extended periods, water saturates the soil that can become more prone to impacts. In 2017, the playa passed the tests and the event wasn’t relocated.

“We don’t want the playa torn up because it’s a national conservation area,” Hall says. “I’ve seen it happen before with people not using good judgement. I’ve seen vehicles sunk up above their axle out there. Depending on how long it stays wet, there may need to be some geotechnical studies done.”

Before the lake dries up, the Black Rock Desert is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts to visit as the water stretching across the vast moon-like landscape is breathtaking. Hall reminds visitors to drive only on roads and walk to the lake’s shoreline.

“If you want to, bring a kayak,” he says. “We did have people do it in 2017.”

Professional photographer Justin Majeczky of Reno made the trip with his wife and three dogs last week to capture a photo of the desert lake at night with the Milky Way overhead reflected in the water.

“Once the sun set, the wind laid down, the stars came out and it was a perfect, epic reflection,” Majeczky says. “It was like walking in the stars.”

Amy Graff is an SFGATE producer. Email her at agraff@sfgate.com.