Plastics, ropes, aluminum cans, clothing and tires are among the nearly 8,200 pounds of small litter removed this summer from Donner Lake and six miles of Lake Tahoe’s sub-surface shoreline.
The underwater clean-ups were spearheaded by Colin West and his staff and volunteers from Clean Up The Lake, a nonprofit whose mission is to complete a clean-up of all 72 miles of Lake Tahoe’s shoreline. The organization is also working with scientists from the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) and Desert Research Institute (DRI) to better understand issues related to trash and microplastics in the environment and work to address those issues from their roots.
“In comparison to next year’s 72-mile SCUBA clean-up of Lake Tahoe, these smaller scale clean-ups gave us the opportunity to practice our craft and fine tune our strategies, while also removing a substantial amount of trash from both Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake,” said West. “Our organization now feels even more ready for what awaits us on the 72-mile SCUBA clean up next year.”
Dive teams began their work in June and July 2020 and covered the full eight miles of Donner Lake’s shoreline up to depths of 25 feet, removing all of the small trash items they could find. That resulted in 5,151.5 pounds of trash removed.
At Lake Tahoe, the team focused on six miles of shoreline near popular recreational areas including Nevada Beach, Zephyr Cove and Secret Beach near Incline Village, recovering 2,238 pounds of trash. Even more litter was removed in previous dives.
Some litter was too large for divers to remove, and will require winches or cranes to extricate it from the water. Divers used the Wildnote App, an archeological surveying software, to pinpoint those locations with GPS for future clean up. They also GPS-marked and photographed historical items that remain in the lake to report those to local authorities.
Conducting the clean-ups are no small feat. West and his team have developed a strategic approach to conducting the efforts, and use a team of SCUBA divers, free divers and snorkelers. Those in the water are supported on the surface by people in kayaks, zodiacs, jet skis and boats.
This summer’s clean-ups were funded through a grant from license plate funds and sub-grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Nevada Department of Environmental Protection.