Scuba divers pull 25,000 pounds of trash from Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, known for its picturesque setting, is also home to a major litter problem: A team of divers this week collected more than 25,000 pounds of trash from its deep blue waters.

Colin West begins the ambitious project in May 2021. A friend told him about 600 pounds of litter he had taken from the lake and West, 35, decided to take a deep dive to add to the total. .

The local resident, who regularly participates in beach cleanups, founded a nonprofit called Clean Up the Lake and started Lake Tahoe’s “72-mile scuba cleanup operation.”

“We navigated the entire perimeter of the lake,” he said.

Among the “25,281 pounds” of flooded trash, he said, were “more than 4,500 different aluminum cans, more than 280 different pairs of sunglasses, cell phones and plastic bottles.”

Among the surprise items were what looked like an engagement ring, a 1980s Nikon film camera, entire lampposts, a “no littering” sign and fragments of the boat and engine block.

“They’re heavier pieces of trash that we need to go back to get them back,” West said.

A diver in SCUBA equipment picks up a dog toy underwater.

Diver Colin West clears degraded dog toys at the bottom of Lake Tahoe.

(Ludovic Fekete / Clean up the lake)

Lake Tahoe is a beautiful mountain lake along the border of California and Nevada. A large freshwater lake, it is a popular picnic spot due to its beaches and ski areas. Nearly 2 million years old, it ranks among the 20 oldest lakes in the world, reportedly welcoming nearly 15 million visitors each year.

“Much of the waste we collect is simply because we have a human presence,” says West. “There was construction debris, there were beer cans, sunglasses or hats flying off the boat. Of course, intentionally littering. But most of it is random. We are all part of the problem.”

The cleanup had a team of 136 volunteers led by six staff members.

“We did two to three days a week and two to three hours in the water on those days,” says West. “But to do those things two to three hours underwater a day, there’s a lot of work on the surface.”

The weather, West said, is the biggest challenge.

On the final day of the project, West said, it was a sunny day when they went in, but they stepped out in the middle of a snowstorm.

“It’s hard to do any kind of set plan,” he said. “We have to monitor wind, smoke, snow and lightning, among other things. We already have safety protocols for each of them in place. Our operations director became a weatherman. “

Two underwater divers.

Diver Hayden Farris sweeps the bottom of the lake while freediver Sadye Easler monitors his progress.

(Ludovic Fekete / Clean up the lake)

Despite the trash can’s markings, the shores of Lake Tahoe – 22 miles long and 12 miles wide – are closely monitored. The Times reports that “federal, state, and local governments have spent more than $2 billion over the past six decades buying land and developing erosion control and wetland restoration projects.”

Zack Bradford, senior science analyst at League to Save Tahoe, told The Times in August 2019: “Clearing these things up at a world-famous near-pristine mountain lake could potentially Motivate people to take action.

Two years later, Clean Up the Lake was a hit.

West, who has been making films for a decade, making commercials and documentaries for the alcohol industry, wants to make the work more meaningful.

“I really wanted to do something that made a difference and helped the environment,” he said.

To do that, he needs money. West says that local company Tahoe Blue Vodka has donated $100,000, and that the organization has received grants and other help from the community.

An example of some of the heavy lifting items found accumulating under the Surface of Lake Tahoe.

An example of some of the heavy lifting items found accumulating under the Surface of Lake Tahoe.

(Ludovic Fekete / Clean up the lake)

However, their work may have just begun.

Jennifer Savage of Surfrider, a nonprofit that fights for plastic reduction in marine environments and coastal conservation, says this is just a snapshot of a lake.

“It’s happening across the country,” said Savage, senior manager of the organization’s plastic pollution initiative. “Every bit of trash creates problems for marine life.”

West is aware of that.

“We are planning a similar cleanup for Fall Leaves Lake in the Tahoe Basin,” he said. “We will set up surveillance systems in 20 hotspots in Lake Tahoe and Lake Donner.

“We’re just getting started.” Scuba divers pull 25,000 pounds of trash from Lake Tahoe

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