New citizen group aims to combat algae in Lake Tahoe

Submitted to the Sun
Algae can be seen from above at Tahoe City Marina.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Recent studies as well as hundreds of phone calls to agencies, nonprofits and researchers are all pointing to one thing – the health and quality of Lake Tahoe’s shoreline is in freefall. 

This past April, startling areas of the north and west shoreline were covered in slimy attached algae. In July and August, the beaches of the south and east had masses of bright green algae amongst swimmers and rotting on the beaches. The algae at South Lake Tahoe was found to have cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), which can be toxic for humans and animals.

“All of the incredible things that made summers on Lake Tahoe so special; swimming in the clean crystal blue water and hanging out on its unique beaches, now seem to be fading,” said Lisa Lamb, co-founder of the newly formed, a nonprofit hoping to raise awareness for the growing crisis at the lake. “As of late, the lake experience has been clouded by algae-infested water, foul odors, and unkept beaches, something we can work together to change.”

In a recent Op-Ed in the Tribune on Aug. 26, Geoff Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center described the different types of algae impacting the beaches and shared images of the conditions. TERC also released the State of the Lake Report ( on July 28, where some of the latest research results on the nearshore algae were reported. Researchers have been endeavoring to understand the changing spread of the algae, as well as the increasing intensity of the impacts to the public. But funding for this work has dried up.

“It’s really a perfect storm,” says co-founder, Mike Bruno. “COVID has disrupted the research funding just when the lake is in crisis because of drought, ash from the Caldor Fire, and a warming climate. So we need to raise money to keep the research and monitoring going, and to try to find solutions.

“The shoreline algae blooms this year represent the worst ecological mess that’s ever occurred at Tahoe,” Bruno continued. “More than 10 miles of beach were basically unusable and there’s a real risk right now that a few miles of beach on the South Shore may be dangerously toxic. So we’re also organizing beach clean-ups to prevent some of this year’s algae from being returned to the lake where the nutrients that fed them will be recycled to fuel future blooms. If the nutrients keep building, the next low-water year could be a full-blown disaster.”

Bruno also sits on an advisory board at TERC, which in 2017 began examining the entire shoreline with an instrumented helicopter and a drone several times each year. This novel and powerful approach painted a better picture of the algae blooms that have been a growing ecological threat to Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem.

The public can help keep this important research going by donating here or using TERC’s Citizen Science Tahoe web app to submit “ground-truthing” images. No downloads are necessary, people can simply take a photo and include any additional comments to be directly sent to TERC.

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