Milestone reached: 8K pounds of trash removed from Tahoe’s depths

Laney Griffo

Clean up the Lake has collected more than 8,000 pounds of trash. This is just a snapshot of what they’ve collected. (Laney Griffo / Tahoe Daily Tribune)

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A group picking up trash underwater at Lake Tahoe reached a milestone this week when divers finished scouring the East Shore and is about one-third of the way through the massive effort.

Clean up the Lake representatives, volunteers and founders gathered at Sand Harbor on Tuesday, Aug. 4 to celebrate the completion of the first 22 miles of the 72-mile underwater clean up along Tahoe’s shoreline.

“This is pretty important because you have such strong westerly winds coming over the Sierras, pounding trash, aluminium cans, plastic bottles into the granite rocks of the shoreline here,” said Executive Director and Founder for CUTL Colin West.

The effort has resulted in 8,122 pounds of trash and 9,200 pieces of trash so far and that’s not including the heavy items they’ve marked to remove later.

Meghan Burk is a “trash diver by heart,” but also serves as the president of the CUTL board. She said the main items they are pulling up are plastic, rubber tires and glass.

They’ve found some interesting pieces of trash so far, like an Incline Village General Improvement District identification card from 1979. This piece stuck out to West because he said tourists take a lot of heat for trashing Tahoe but locals and homeowners can also account for some of the trash in the lake, even if they are items dropped in accidentally.

“A lot of the trash we see in the lake you can’t really identify as being from a visitor or local, for the most part, but in fact, there are things like construction materials, lamps that have fallen off docks, tires that might be dumped off boats or docks that use them as guards,” West said. “A lot of this impact that we have from us simply living and being here.

“It doesn’t matter where this trash is coming from, it just matters how we’re going to take care of it today,” West added.

Matt Levitt, founder and CEO of Tahoe Blue Vodka, was not only one of the project’s first and major donors but he also participated in several of the dives. He said he’s seen a lot of trash from the 70s and 80s, when less thought was given to the impact humans could have.

“A lot more of the trash is from decades ago than from today,” Levitt said. “I think the education we got in school about leaving no trace and taking care of the planet has made some impact.”

However, West said they rarely see any trash 70 years or older, meaning almost all of the trash is from recent human history.

They have teams of volunteers actively sorting and categorizing the trash. That data is being compiled and at the end of the project, they hope to have a clearer picture of the age and type of trash.

Volunteers weigh and sort trash.
Mike Peron/ Tahoe Daily Tribune

West said they are also working with other groups around the lake, such as the Desert Research Institute, which is studying microplastics. West said they’ve been sharing their data to help further along those projects.

The divers didn’t think this was going to be an easy project but weather conditions this summer have added an extra challenge to the effort.

“There are several words we don’t like to use, the “l” word, lightning, the “s” word, smoke, and the “w” word, wind,” West said, which are three things they’ve experienced quite a bit this summer.

“As these things come up, we have to redefine our strategy and our approach and come up with different safety protocols,” West said. “We are doing the 72 mile clean-up in a short warm water period, which is tough enough, but to have to deal with whatever mother nature throws at us is even more difficult but our team knew this stepping in … and we’re ready and we have protocols in place to tackle anything that comes our way.”

Even with the tough conditions, the divers love what they do. Burk said she gets to dive every Monday with the group but wishes she could spend every day diving. She also said, even once this project is over, she’ll probably never be able to dive without looking for trash.

West is already looking towards the future. He’s thinking of places where they could do similar projects and how to use the data they are collecting on this project. They are working to create an art piece from the trash and finding other ways to responsibly dispose of the trash they can’t use.

Levitt said he’s thrilled with the way his money has been spent.

“Most science research donations go to long-term, slow moving projects with barely tangible results,” Levitt said. “This project, we get to see the impact we’re having every day.”

The Tahoe Fund has also been a major supporter of the project and CEO Amy Berry is also pleased with the results so far.

“I love this project because its a great example of what happens when the community comes together,” Berry said.

CUTL is looking for donations and volunteers. To learn more, visit

So far about 8,000 pounds of trash has been removed from underwater at Lake Tahoe. (Provided)


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