Donner divers clean up lake
TRUCKEE – Nine rescue divers clad in long underwear under their drysuits dipped into the rippling 51 degree water at Donner Lake’s west end boat ramp last week.
In teams of two or three their heads disappeared below the breezy surface and they began their search – for garbage.
As part of ongoing under-water search and rescue training, rescue divers from the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, Truckee Police Department and the Truckee Fire Protection District logged under-water hours while pulling sunken tires, pipes and junk off the lake’s bottom.
“Today we found everything from beer cans and bottles to a picnic table and tires,” said Truckee fire Capt. Rod Brock, training officer for the joint-agency dive team.
“The police department was going to do a surface clean up (on the lake), and we needed to schedule a dive anyway, so it just naturally came together. I think that we will just make it an annual event.”
Last year, dive teams responded to a drowning at Boca Reservoir, and a drowning and a near-drowning at Donner Lake.
“The dive team is used for rescue, not for sustained searches,” said Truckee fire Capt. Craig Harvey, the dive team supervisor for both the Boca and Donner Lake drownings. “In cold water drownings, there is still a one hour window in which the person can be resuscitated without brain damage.”
After that, the window gets smaller.”
To prepare for such rescues, divers train monthly and practice everything from ice diving to low-visibility search techniques.
These trainings take serious planning because diving at elevation in waters that are often below freezing increases health risks for anyone venturing into the deep.
“You could spend a lot of time in 70 degree waters in a thin wet suit,” Brock said. “But in the cold waters that we have, stress is added to the body; hypothermia is the main issue.”
At elevation, divers can only safely venture to about 80 feet, which is equivalent to about 120 feet deep at sea level, according to Truckee Police Sgt. Tim Hargrove. Divers must also carry extra weight to fight buoyancy and plan for slower ascent rates.
But once such factors have been considered, diving in Donner, Lake Tahoe and other local waters can be safe and even enjoyable for recreational divers. It’s no Barrier Reef, but might still be worth the thrill.
“You see fish; mostly trout. A lot of people dive for crawfish,” Hargrove said. “Here, it’s more about just getting in the water and diving, not finding ship wrecks.”
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