‘Transformative:’ Ambitious 72-mile cleanup launched at Tahoe
An ambitious project is underway along Lake Tahoe’s shoreline as volunteers from Clean Up The Lake made their first dives in an effort to remove trash from all 72 miles of Big Blue.
Roughly 22 months in the making and led by Colin West, executive director and founder of Clean Up The Lake, the effort will send divers over the next several months plunging beneath Tahoe’s surface and bringing up any trash they find on the bottom.
“This is probably the biggest week of my life,” said West, who is also scheduled to give a TED Talk this weekend.
In 2020, Clean Up The Lake dove around Donner Lake and removed more than 5,100 pounds of litter, much of which were old tires and aluminum cans. The team also dove roughly 7 miles of Lake Tahoe’s Nevada shoreline and removed more than 1,700 pounds of trash.
Now with the financial support from groups like the Tahoe Fund, volunteers are ready to dive roughly three times a week, averaging one mile per day around Tahoe.
“We saw Colin did (seven) miles last year … which really cemented a couple things. One, this is something that needs to get done, and two, Colin and his team proved they have the skills to do it,” said Tahoe Fund CEO Amy Berry. “We’re always looking for big, transformative projects, and it feels like doing the first ever cleanup of the lake around the entire lake feels transformative.”
Typical dive days, said West, involve a group of roughly 10 to 12 people, including volunteers on kayaks, safety monitors, a jet ski, and a couple of boats. Larger cleanup days will see the group double in size. Diving will take place at depths of up to 25 feet.
Since launching Clean Up The Lake, West said he’s had several hundred people volunteer to help dive, others expressing interest in learning to dive, and another couple hundred seek to volunteer in other facets like being on boats or kayaks.
“We’ve got probably over 700 people that want to come out with us,” said West. “We’ve got an outpouring of hundreds of people, and Clean Up The Lake is doing their best to try and get everyone out on these programs this summer.”
PLANS FOR THE TRASH
To better facilitate the volunteer process, West said Clean Up The Lake has partnered with Sierra Diving Center to begin tailoring courses toward the effort.
“It’s a baby step for Clean Up The Lake, but I think it’s going to be the first of a bigger effort to offer training courses from our organization,” said West.
While, ultimately, the goal of Clean Up The Lake is to remove trash from the area’s bodies of water, West said it’s important that the group understand why, how, and where the trash is ending up.
“We will start to better understand the differences,” said West. “Like, is the Nevada side going to be dirtier because of the westerly Sierra winds pushing things into the eastern shoreline?”
The eastern shoreline also has a lot of rocks, which West said often trap debris, whereas areas that are sandier are typically cleaner.
Once removed from the lake, the group has further plans for the trash, including teaming up with Tahoe Fund to create a series of art. Plans are also to work with Tahoe Timber to refurbish pairs of old sunglasses that found their way into the lake. Tahoe Timber will remove the old plastic lenses and replace them with glass polarized lenses before selling them back to the public.
“It’s really thrilling and exciting to get this going,” said West. “The team of people that have been with me has been truly amazing.”
This year’s work is being funded by contributions raised by the Tahoe Fund from more than 135 businesses and people who donated to the cause. The fundraising campaign was launched with an initial $100,000 match offered by Tahoe Blue Vodka, followed by a $25,000 donation from Vail Resorts. Other supporters include the Nevada Division of State Lands, Lake Tahoe License Plate program and other grant giving foundations like the Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation, Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation and American Century Championship.
“We’ve just had such an awesome outpouring of support for this project,” said West. “Myself and the entire team are utterly thankful.”
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun, a sister publication to the Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com or 530-550-2643
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