Clean Up the Lake pulls more than 8,200 pounds of trash from Tahoe, Donner |

Clean Up the Lake pulls more than 8,200 pounds of trash from Tahoe, Donner

Divers from Clean Up the Lake remove trash from Donner Lake.
Courtesy of Clean Up the Lake

Cans, bottles, phones, sunglasses, clothing, boom boxes and much more litter the bottoms of Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake.

One group, Clean Up the Lake, is actively changing that, diving along the shores of both lakes and bringing up thousands of pounds of trash that is often decades old.

“We want to understand more of what’s going on under the surface,” said Founder and Executive Director of Clean Up The Lake Colin West.

Clean Up the Lake, which began diving in Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake in 2019, has pulled up 8,252.5 pounds of litter. Of that amount, 5,151.5 pounds were taken out of Donner Lake.

“We want to understand more of what’s going on under the surface.”— Colin WestFounder and executive director of Clean Up The Lake

West, whose team managed to circumnavigate Donner Lake this year, said the most prevalent items were beer cans and bottles.

“Obviously, people love to come to Tahoe to party and to have a good time, but you’ve got to be more on top of your disposal plan. The beer cans and beer bottles are consistent between Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe.”

West also singled out Donner Lake as an area where he’s seen a prevalence of clear plastic cups on the lake floor.

“I don’t know if there’s some kind of vendor or someone that sells clear plastic cups but we’ve found so many, probably at least 100 or more of clear plastic cups,” said West on diving in Donner Lake. “Please find an alternate option.”

Donner Laker is also littered with fields of old buoy anchors, according to West, many of which are made of plastic buckets filled with cement.

“There’s a lot,” said West. “We’ve come across things like dumbbell weights that were once used as a buoy anchor, and I’m talking hundreds of pounds. You see dumbbells that are 100 pounds each and there’s seven of them with a chain tied around them and it’s sitting in 25, 30 feet (deep).”

Old clothing is another item West said is prevalent beneath the surface. The crew often finds bathing suits, underwear and other items that have fallen apart over the years, leaving little but elastic waist bands.

“We pull out a lot of deteriorating clothing where things like an elastic strap is still intact but you can tell the clothing itself has already broken down,” said West. “It’s typically breaking down into smaller pieces.”

The team from Clean Up the Lake has scoured areas up to 25 feet deep at Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe, bringing up a items that range from old tires to wedding rings.

The group has also managed to reunite long lost items with owners, recently reviving and returning an iPhone that was found in Lake Tahoe.

“There’s some people out there that will be getting a phone or a social media message from Clean Up the Lake letting them know we found some of their treasures,” said West on finding old wallets, phones and other items.

The team recently finished diving at Lake Tahoe’s Chimney Beach where West said they found beer bottles and cans to be the most common item. The dive also likely marked Clean Up the Lake’s final organized clean up of 2020.

Going forward, the group plans on using the experience they’ve gained during the past few months to dive and clean the entirety of Lake Tahoe’s roughly 72 miles of shoreline.

“We understand the logistics, the distance we can go, and crew size,” said West. “We are going to re-swim everything next summer and it’s going to be one hell of a challenge to get all 72 miles done.”

The team has also pinpointed more than 100 objects that are too heavy to lift from Tahoe and Donner’s lake beds, which amount to tens of thousands of pounds of items that will eventually be removed.

“It’s hard to give an exact figure on it, but just eyeballing it, you have old abandoned buoy blocks that are no longer being used, or shards of a boat that might weigh a couple hundred pounds … it adds up quick,” said West on the two lakes. “There’s a lot of big pieces of trash down there.”

In order to pull up items and ramp up their efforts, West said Clean Up the Lake is seeking donations in order to purchase an offshore fishing boat.

“We are in dire need of a boat,” said West. “If there’s any big businesses out there that wants to have their name on Clean Up the Lake’s boat, I’m in.”

For more information, or to donate to Clean Up the Lake visit

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at or 530-550-2643.

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