As Tahoe’s trash problem grows, this group keeps cleaning up


There’s a lot of trash in the Tahoe region, much of it in the lake itself and smaller lakes in the area. There’s the usual detritus, like aluminum cans, plastic chip bags or dirty towels. Then there’s the more unusual things that can be found, such as cement blocks, cables and old underwear. 

Local nonprofit Clean Up the Lake has removed more than 46,000 pounds of trash from freshwater lakes in the Lake Tahoe region. It recently took on Fallen Leaf Lake, a 3-mile-long lake just southwest of Lake Tahoe — and also discovered a historical car within its depths.  

The nonprofit and its volunteer divers and swimmers have circumnavigated Lake Tahoe in their efforts to remove trash. They swam and collected trash at Donner Lake. But Fallen Leaf Lake may very well be the dirtiest waters the team has experienced to date. In the span of one mile along the shoreline at Fallen Leaf Lake, teams removed 3,000 pounds of trash and 100 tires. 

The group also came upon a historical artifact: a Ford Model T automobile. Colin West, founder and executive director of Clean Up the Lake, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he believed the vehicle may be 100 years old. (SFGATE and the San Francisco Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of one another.) The lake bed was a time capsule for the vehicle’s tires, chassis and engine block. 

Historical artifacts cannot be removed during these dives, West told me two years ago and repeated to the Chronicle last week. Historical items are left behind and reported to state officials. 

Among the trash and forgotten items scuba divers found at Fallen Leaf Lake were tires. 

Courtesy of Clean Up the Lake

Two years ago, SFGATE reported about one of the group’s earlier missions: A group of scuba divers plunged into Lake Tahoe. This was not a sightseeing dive. Their mission was clear-cut, plain and dirty: pick up as much trash from the bottom of the lake as they could. Clean Up the Lake’s system for what they call “large-scale scuba cleanups” has been proven to cut back on pollution and combat litter, a mounting problem and issue in Lake Tahoe that many, many people are trying to solve.

“With new data being gathered in Fallen Leaf Lake, the organization has had a chance to shine new light on how widespread this pollution issue is,” said Zac Smith, outreach coordinator for the group, in a press release, “and how remediation projects like this should hold a level of priority among environmental efforts in the regions surrounding polluted lakes in the Sierra, and across the country.”

A team of scuba divers removed thousands of pounds of trash from Fallen Leaf Lake, near Lake Tahoe. 

A team of scuba divers removed thousands of pounds of trash from Fallen Leaf Lake, near Lake Tahoe. 

Courtesy of Clean Up the Lake

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