Volunteer divers remove hundreds of pounds of trash from Donner Lake

Divers from Clean Up the Lake removed 672 pounds of trash from Donner Lake to kick off a month-long cleanup of areas around all 37 public piers.
Courtesy of Clean Up the Lake

A diver spots a dark object sitting on the floor of one of the Sierra’s most pristine lakes — something that undoubtedly should not be there.

He begins digging at the sand and rocks surrounding it, clawing with diving gloves to free the nearly completely buried object, and after much work, brings a 1970’s era BF Goodrich tire to the surface.

It’s one of several tires found by a handful of volunteers from Clean Up the Lake during Wednesday’s dive at Donner Lake. The morning dive marked their fourth thus far in Donner, resulting in roughly 672 pounds of trash being removed from the lake in an area — along the east side, less than a quarter-mile in length. The clean-up effort will eventually include all 37 public piers.

“There’s tires and stuff,” said Executive Director Colin West on the items being pulled from the lake. “But then there are loads of tennis balls. I’m sure everyone loves tossing tennis balls off docks for dogs, but if their teeth pierce it, it might just sink to the bottom. I think that’s happening a lot.”

West added that each volunteer has averaged pulling up between 40 and 60 pounds of litter during dives. Items found have included single-use packaging, solo cups, golf balls, and beer and soda cans.

“There’s a lot of fibers down there,” added volunteer Meghan Burk. “You just see these light floating clumps and that has to do with towels, clothing, things like that.”

For heavier and larger items, the team is pinning their locations on the floor in order to return at a later point and remove them. During Wednesday’s dive, the team also discovered a roughly 25-foot steel boat that appears to have been scuttled many decades ago. With finds that could have archaeological significance, West said the team is marking their locations for state authorities.

The project in Donner Lake this summer will not only result in much waste being removed, but will also give the team data in order to observe where the “hot spots” of litter are at in Donner Lake. Through its software the team will be able to return to certain locations deemed problematic, along with going back to items that were too heavy to lift by hand.

“The thing is, we’re going to scrape the surface here,” said West. “This initial three miles that we’re going to hit, we hope that can draw the attention of the local community and hopefully get some support to continue having our organization keep the lake clean. That’s our goal.”

The team plans on working along each of Donner’s 37 public piers this month before heading to the east side of Lake Tahoe for a 6-mile cleanup in August.

72-mile cleanup set for 2021

Clean Up the Lake had originally planned on beginning a project that would have taken them on dives around Lake Tahoe.

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, West said the nonprofit made the decision to postpone the project until 2021.

In the meantime, the team is continuing to refine its process of removing trash from the floors of the area’s lakes, and is seeking support from the community to continue its efforts.

As part of the Lake Tahoe cleanup, the team is leveraging local businesses to adopt a mile of Lake Tahoe for $1,000. Individual donations can also be made by visiting

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

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