Group halfway through 2nd Donner Lake cleanup; collecting more trash than 1st visit

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Colin West and his team of divers from Clean Up the Lake took only a week off after finishing their clean-up effort around Lake Tahoe before starting their next project. 

The team recently embarked on a second underwater circumnavigation effort around Donner Lake’s shoreline. Clean Up the Lake first circumnavigated Donner Lake in 2020 where they removed 5,151 pounds of trash. 

Halfway through this year’s effort, crews have already collected about 6,500 pounds, which, at that pace, means they will nearly triple the amount of trash collected. While the extra amount of trash is discouraging, it isn’t all new trash that’s accumulated since 2020. A lot of it is bigger items such as tires and illegal moorings that they didn’t have the ability to remove before. 

Divers toss a frisbee they’ve found in the lake.
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“It has been really interesting making our way around the lake,” West said. “Two years have passed since we did our initial circumnavigation and I think we’re finding that when we started that, it was one of our first real attempts. We didn’t really know what we were doing in 2020.”

He remembers one of the first days out having a kayaker tip over because they’d tried to load too many tires. 

“Now that we’ve literally cleaned over 90 miles of subsurface shoreline in Tahoe and Donner, we’ve really perfected how we approach it,” West added. 

Volunteers on the surface help divers pull up heavier items.
Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

They now use rock weighted ropes to haul up heavier items and they have a boat named Darlene that carries the collected trash. 

Darlene the trash boat tows the items divers pulled up.
Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

However, not all of the trash is old, some has been put into the lake during the last two years. 

“We just finished the public pier side and we’ve actually seen still a higher quantity of trash there and I think it’s a mix of old and new trash,” West said. 

He said that he’s seen a lot of fishing related trash, as well as phone cords and plastic lawn chairs that are new. 

“So there is still, after two years, a lot of new litter being deposited on the areas with a stronger human presence,” West said.

This second circumnavigation is part of CUTL’s five year monitoring program. They can now go back and look at some of the problem areas and see if there are still issues there and use that data to inform policy change. 

For example, West would like to see trash cans by the public piers. He also believes the high price to dispose of old tires leads people to dump them in the lake rather than pay the fees. 

West prepares to start his dive.
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He’s also started working with scientists to learn how to look for aquatic invasive species and has seen quite a few clam shells in Donner. 

Another aspect of this trip that is different from the past effort are the deep dives they are planning to conduct. Near some of the hotspot areas, CUTL divers will be cleaning down to 100 feet. 

Following the completion of Donner Lake, CUTL plan to tackle Fallen Leaf Lake. 

For this year’s Donner dives, they partnered with the Martis Fund, Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation, Raley’s, Truckee Tahoe Lumber and Parasol Foundation.

Divers have already collected more trash that they did during the whole first project.
Tahoe South

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