Divers start historic clean-up effort at Lake Tahoe

A volunteer fishes a tire out of Lake Tahoe as part of Friday's underwater clean-up.

A volunteer fishes a tire out of Lake Tahoe as part of Friday's underwater clean-up.
Laney Griffo | Tahoe Daily Tribune


At 10:30 a.m. on a perfect Friday morning at Tahoe, divers waded into the lake to start an historic clean-up effort.

On May 14, Colin West, founder of Clean Up the Lake briefed crews before they started their dive into the lake’s 50-degree water from the shore of Edgewood Tahoe.

The effort to circumvent the lake’s 72-mile shoreline, cleaning up trash along the way, was delayed last summer due to COVID-19.

“We made it through the pandemic, and we survived,” West said to the crews.

Three kayaks, two jet skies and three boats accompanied the nine divers.

West told the Tribune that each crew is made up of four divers, acting as cleaners and one free diver helping them bring up the items. Each crew also has one to two kayakers and one jet ski to provide any aid the divers could need.

“The ratio is very important,” West said.

For West, the safety of the crews is paramount. In the pre-dive meeting, he went over safety protocols including hand gestures, oxygen levels and distances the boats must stay.

He reminded divers not to go below 25 feet and to get out of the water if they get too cold.

The clean up effort is made possible by funds from the Tahoe Fund and Tahoe Blue Vodka. In November 2020, the Tahoe Fund started a fundraiser and was immediately gifted $25,000 from Vail Resorts. They also received large donations from Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation in Association with Martis Fund, Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation and American Century Championship.

Tahoe Blue Vodka owner Matt Levitt said he wanted to do something big to support the lake so they gave a $100,000 matching donation to Tahoe Fund.

“Since I started Tahoe Blue Vodka, our mission has always been to give back to organizations and efforts that work to protect Lake Tahoe,” Levitt said in a press release. “It’s incredible to see the passion that people have for protecting the lake’s clarity and how matching donations like this one can inspire people to give back and make a difference.”

Tahoe Fund CEO Amy Berry thanked Levitt for “selling enough vodka” to make the event possible.

In addition to his donation, Levitt also joined the clean-up effort this morning as one of the divers.

The divers will be going out three days a week and cover about a mile a day.

Meghan Burk, Chairman of the CUTL Board, who was also one of the divers, told the Tribune they will be GPS tracking “hotspots” where there is a lot of trash. They will be sending crews out throughout the summer to clean-up those spots. She also said they will be making sure historical items are given to the proper organizations.

Within an hour of getting in the water, divers recovered three tires and a cinder block, in addition to filling their bags with smaller trash items.

“I hope to raise awareness just by drawing attention to how much litter is coming up,” Berry said.

To volunteer, donate or follow-up the effort’s progress, visit https://cleanupthelake.org


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