Government officials and environmental groups want to turn Lake Tahoe Visitor Authority’s new obligation to comb beaches for debris after its July 4 and Labor Day fireworks shows into a year-round Adopt-a-Beach Tahoe program.
The tourism agency must go through a new permitting process with Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District for its fireworks shows after settling a lawsuit that alleged debris left in and around the lake from last year’s shows was a Clean Water Act violation.
The agency is recruiting teams of volunteers to comb beaches from Edgewood to Marla Bay after this year’s shows.
Volunteers will be outfitted with sifters and buckets and garbage bags to collect fireworks debris and other trash, as well as clipboards to take detailed notes about what fireworks debris they find and where they find it. The tourism agency must issue a report documenting beach cleanup efforts and prove it has met the terms of its permits — in addition to other cleanup involving boats, nets and divers.
But South Lake Tahoe City Manager Nancy Kerry said she and others see a chance to turn that effort into something bigger.
When the future of the fireworks shows was uncertain because of the lawsuit in March, a large turnout of people said they would do whatever it takes to keep the shows going. That turnout included South Shore residents, business owners and service clubs as well as government officials from both California and Nevada.
“We need everyone out there July 5. But we see an opportunity to say this is about more than just solving a problem to keep an event,” Kerry said. “Clean and pristine beaches are key to keeping people coming back and it’s the right thing to do. We’re envisioning a community-wide event. Let’s own the beaches and take care of them. People were saying they would do anything to keep the fireworks, so we’re confident we’ll see a good showing.”
For as much as South Lake Tahoe takes pride in its mountain lake and scenery, there has never been a formally organized lake-wide beach cleanup effort, said Carol Chaplin, director of Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.
“We hope this will take on a new momentum that goes beyond our borders for the fireworks permit,” Chaplin said Wednesday as officials kicked off the adopt-a-beach program at Edgewood Tahoe.
Officials said they want businesses, service clubs, nonprofit groups, neighborhoods and families — anyone with a couple hours to spare a few times a month — to adopt a beach to help clean up. Participants in the program will be recognized on signs put up at adopted beaches.
Nancy Gibson, supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said that agency supports the program. The Forest Service has a number of beaches people can volunteer to help clean and hopefully those efforts will set a positive example and cause others to be more responsible with their trash and pick litter up, Gibson said.
While the Adopt-a-Beach Tahoe program is focused on the South Shore initially, officials said they want it to grow into a basin-wide program.
The environmental group League to Save Lake Tahoe supports the program and is ready to help with its staff and volunteers, said Marilee Movius, its community engagement manager.
“I think it’s wonderful to see groups coming together for a common goal to protect the lake and our beaches,” Movius said.
Working with a dozen students and two teachers from Douglas County High School, League to Save Lake Tahoe collected 59 pounds of trash from El Dorado Beach after the Memorial Day weekend.
Aaron Hussmann, a community engagement associate for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said he hopes that the enthusiasm people showed about keeping the fireworks shows translates into lots of volunteers and action. “If we can pick up 59 pounds of trash in an hour, just imagine what hundreds of volunteers across many beaches could pick up,” he said.