Scuba Divers Remove More Than 25,000 Pounds of Debris From Lake Tahoe

Volunteer scuba divers removed debris from Lake Tahoe.
Volunteer scuba divers cleaned up debris from Lake Tahoe's entire 72-mile shoreline. Clean Up the Lake

At more than two million years old and more than a mile above sea level, Lake Tahoe sits on the border of California and Nevada in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains. The water is so pure that it isn’t even required to be filtered by water suppliers, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported.

Despite the remarkable purity of its water — 99.994 percent — Lake Tahoe does have a problem with debris. Determined to tackle the problem, California nonprofit Clean Up the Lake organized volunteer scuba divers to remove litter from the lake’s entire 72-mile shoreline. The divers were tasked with removing garbage from the first 25 feet beneath the surface of the lake, reported The Guardian, and what they collected was astounding.

According to nonprofit the Tahoe Fund, the divers recovered 25,281 pounds of trash that included engagement rings, Nikon cameras from the 1980s, large pieces of boats, lampposts, wallets and, of course, plastic bottles.

“We filled our travel trailer full of that litter numerous times,” said founder and executive director of Clean Up the Lake Colin West, as NBC Bay Area reported. “It’s crazy. We had 80 different days on the lake, and I’d say every two to three days we would almost fill a 10- to 12-foot travel trailer full of litter.”

According to Clean Up the Lake, 24,797 items of debris were removed from the lake. The trash included 4,527 aluminum cans, 295 pairs of sunglasses, 171 tires and 127 boat anchors.

According to West, most of the litter made it into the lake accidentally, reported The Guardian.

“You might find five or six beer cans in one area,” said West, as The Guardian reported. “But the sunglasses, the cellphones, the hats, the construction material – a lot of this has happened accidentally or from wind storms. No one is trying to lose a boat anchor.”

Lake Tahoe has a maximum depth of more than 1,600 feet. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, between 1968 and 1997, the deep-water clarity of Lake Tahoe suffered a decline from 100 to 64 feet — about a 30 percent reduction — due to algae and particles of fine sediment. The fine sediment particles are the cause of about two-thirds of the impairment of the lake’s clarity.

Global warming may have a unique effect on Lake Tahoe, reported The Guardian. Recently, the warming of the lake’s waters has increased to 15 times faster than the prior century’s average.

A sculpture made from some of the debris retrieved from Lake Tahoe has been commissioned by the Tahoe Fund, CBS Sacramento reported. It will be a permanent installation created by artists Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova and located at the Tahoe South Events Center in Tahoe City, California. Called “Surfaced,” the sculpture will be of an endangered species that is native to Lake Tahoe. The choices to be voted on by the public include a Sierra Nevada red fox, a bald eagle or a Lahontan cutthroat trout. Voting is open until May 20.

“By creating a permanent art sculpture at this wonderful location with some of what was recovered from the lake, our hope is that it will inspire greater environmental stewardship and remind those who love Lake Tahoe that it’s up to all of us to take care of it,” Tahoe Fund CEO Amy Berry said in a press release about the sculpture.

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