Largest lakewide cleanup in history gets underway summer 2021.

By Natasha Bourlin

In just one lone cove of Lake Tahoe in summer 2018, approximately 600 pounds of trash was cleaned up by scuba divers. That’s right: 600 pounds. In one cove. Imagine what’s underneath the rest of Tahoe’s 72-mile circumference …

A grass roots NPO “Clean Up The Lake” and their team are about to find out.

Filmmaker and founder of nonprofit organizations Clean Up the Lake (DBA pending) Colin West has partnered with local and regional dive centers, including Stateline’s very own Tahoe Dive Center and it’s owner Matt Meunier, to circumvent the freshwater alpine jewel underwater in a massive, unprecedented effort to rid the lake of trash.

Every inch of Tahoe’s underwater shoreline will be explored by the plastic-seeking pioneers while strapped with scuba gear. Cleaners will be integrated on the beaches, as well. Their endeavor may be the largest clean-up effort in Tahoe’s history.

It’s a gallant endeavor considering Tahoe’s size — one that cannot be undertaken alone.

Drive to dive

Lake Tahoe is more than just a spectacular sight — one that mesmerizes, entertains and inspires. Residents teem with passion and protectiveness for their alpine home. Visitors come from around the world to gaze into its extraordinarily clear waters and bask on its multitude of picturesque beaches.

When enjoying the lake, Tahoe’s immense rocks, marine life, watercraft and sandy bottoms are all the visuals people should enjoy … not a mounting stockpile of trash. Because it’s more than just aesthetics, it’s of extreme importance to keep Tahoe clean.

For residents, visitors and the abundant area wildlife, the lake serves as the primary source of drinking water. While global research is still ongoing on any adverse effects of ingesting even microscopic amounts of plastics, a side of microplastics is certainly not something anyone orders with their iced tea.

The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states, “Plastic debris can come in all shapes and sizes, but those that are less than five millimeters in length (or about the size of a sesame seed) are called ‘microplastics.’”

In a nutshell, microplastics are broken down fragments of larger, likely discarded plastic pieces.

“With tourism increasing . . . I decided it was time to make a difference in our own backyard. Tahoe appears to be pristine and beautiful, but under the surface, there are quite a few issues going on with pollution,” says West.

Inspired by the aforementioned load of cove trash and recent research on the alarming amount of microplastics in and around the lake found by the University of California, Davis, Colin West and Clean Up The Lake’s team will begin diving June 1, 2021, with a one year delay due to COVID 19 this summer.

Some of the trash dates back decades.

Pristine from the inside out

West plans to swim up front with Matt Meunier of Tahoe Dive Center, where they will have 2 to 6 divers behind them each day, cleaning anything they miss on their 72-mile swim. Heavy lift items and hot spots for trash will get a GPS pinpoint that the organization will use in the near future. The goal is remove heavy lift items in 2022, and continue to monitor heavy trash areas around the lake or “hot spots” to send additional divers for cleanups, and keep a close watch to see if current tourism is depositing excess trash in these areas.

It will be completed in multiple stages until the entire perimeter has been cleared of litter.

This project will also be captured on film, as part of a feature documentary entitled “Make a Difference,” focusing on international plastic pollution and the people attempting to combat it. The NPO is currently working with state agencies in Nevada, with plans to also work with California agencies this fall, plus establishing partnerships with research facilities to collect data on the trash they find to understand and find solutions for the issue.

A Gofundme page was started to help raise an additional $400,000 for the entire project. Volunteers to join in the effort are also being sought out.

Taking care of exquisite Lake Tahoe is a project everyone can be proud to take part in. https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/cleanupthelake

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