‘Making a difference’: 8K pounds of trash removed from Tahoe
As a team of divers drop below the surface of the waves near Ski Run Marina, the leader of the group points to an area he believes will have little trash.
It’s an ideal spot to work out any kinks for an ambitious plan to dive around the 72-miles of Lake Tahoe’s shoreline. However, as the team dips toward the bottom off the shore off of South Lake Tahoe, an unexpected view begins to come into focus. Instead of an area that Clean Up the Lake Founder and Executive Director Colin West expected to be light on trash, the team of divers comes upon a field of discarded bottles.
“I was like, ‘You know, I don’t think we’re going to see much trash,’” said West. “We get down there and all of a sudden we’re in a glass graveyard — glass bottles all over the place. Even with all of the experience and the hundreds of dives I’ve had cleaning up the lake in Tahoe, I was surprised. I was blown away at how much we pulled out of that area.”
Founded in 2018, Clean Up the Lake’s team of volunteer divers have dove into Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake, bringing up thousands of pounds of trash from beneath the surface. This year the nonprofit set out to pull trash from depths of up to 25 feet around the entirety of Lake Tahoe.
On Wednesday, Clean Up the Lake celebrated its first milestone on its way to cleaning 72 miles of shoreline, announcing that 8,122 pounds of trash have been removed along 22 miles of Tahoe’s eastern shore.
“We’ve found such a wide variety of things,” said West. “You’re still seeing a lot of aluminum cans getting stuck in the rocks, but also thousands of pieces of plastic … single-use plastic. It’s super sad to see.”
West said that in the first 22 miles of the cleanup, the team pulled 9,281 pieces of trash out of the lake. Among the litter collected, the team pulled up 70 anchors and 64 tires.
Part of Clean Up the Lake’s mission is to gather data on where trash ends up in Tahoe. As part of the 22-mile cleanup, the team did its first re-dive of an area near Chimney Beach, which was cleaned last summer.
“You definitely can see some differences in some of the areas that we’ve cleaned, which was awesome to notice,” said West. “We feel like we are cleaning up the lake. We are making a difference.”
West said that last year the team of divers pulled out 990 beer cans from within a mile of the area, and found an additional 500 cans this time around.
Spending upward of 15 hours during a day of diving, West said he’s been disappointed with the amount of trash beneath Tahoe’s pristine waters, much of which appears to be from within the past half century.
“One thing you really notice is a lot of this trash is not 75 years old,” said West. “A lot of it has come in the last 50 years or so. We’ve just left this massive footprint in our wake. It’s sad to see what the human species has done in the last half century.
“Obviously, there’s great people out there making strong efforts to counteract that, but, overall, it’s going to take everyone to realize how bad it’s getting,” he added.
Thus far, the team has covered 22 miles in 27 days of its 72-mile cleanup. Originally, West planned to cover a mile per day, but said he expects the eastern side of Tahoe to be the dirtiest area to dive in due to winds, current, and rocks. Plans are to finish the project by winter.
“I’m proud with what the team has done and how far we are,” he added.
The project was funded by contributions raised by the Tahoe Fund from more than 135 businesses and people who donated to the cause, including an initial $100,000 match offered by Tahoe Blue Vodka. Additional funding support came from Vail Resorts, the Nevada Division of State Lands Lake Tahoe License Plate program and other grant-giving foundations.
“The sheer volume of trash that has been recovered in just this first stretch of shoreline is incredible,” said Matt Levitt, founder of Tahoe Blue Vodka, in a news release. “Every time I’m out diving with the team, I’m moved by the value and impact of this unprecedented clean up effort. I hope it serves to raise awareness about the negative impact trash can have on the lake and the ecosystems that inhabit it. From day one, a portion of proceeds from Tahoe Blue Vodka have gone to support the ongoing efforts of organizations that work to protect the magnificent Lake Tahoe for future generations to enjoy.”
For more information or to donate to Clean Up the Lake, visit cleanupthelake.org.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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