Tahoe's ugly secret and a plan to clean it up

Published: Sep. 26, 2019 at 6:34 PM PDT
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Mark Twain called Lake Tahoe "the fairest picture the whole world affords."

Tahoe's beauty and its cold, clear waters draw visitors to its increasingly crowded and urbanized shoreline and out onto the lake itself. Unfortunately visitors have been leaving more than just footprints.

What's left on the beach is easy to see and clean up. It is a more difficult problem to fix beneath the waves.

"Get down there with your scuba gear about a foot or two above the bottom," says diver Colin West, "and you start to see beer cans from the 1980's or 70's covered with sediments and algae. It might not be everywhere, but it's dirtier than any shoreline I've ever seen around the lake."

Colin West is a Tahoe based filmmaker. Diving in the tropics, he began noticing how much trash was being left in the ocean and joined those vowing to do something about it.

Then West realized he was seeing the same problem here. He founded a non-profit, Clean Up The Lake, to do something about it.

"Last year one of my partners in this project got 600 pounds of trash from just one little cove under the surface of the lake. A lot of people are surprised to hear that. I was surprised," said West.

West also said the trash is having an impact on the lake. "When it comes to the plastic pollution that we find, it can deteriorate over time. Of course it won't go away, but little shards of plastic can start to get out there. It can get into the stomachs of the trout that we all want to fish and catch."

Partnering with Matt Meuniere of Tahoe Dive Center, West's group has been making exploratory dives. Their hauls have been surprising in variety and disheartening in volume. Last weekend they retrieved more than 300 pounds of trash.

But this is just the beginning. Next spring, the group plans to circumnavigate the lake, all 72 miles underwater, picking up trash as they go.

"I'm hoping we can bring up a lot, not because I want to find a lot of trash in the beautiful lake, but I want to make as big a difference as I can."

The circumnavigation cleanup is an ambitious project and they are going to heed help. They are planning an adopt-a-mile sponsorship, a

effort and a roster of volunteers.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2019