The Historic Underwater Cleanup of Lake Tahoe is Complete. Here Are the Staggering Numbers Behind the Trash.

Photo: Clean Up the Lake

Clean Up the Lake has completed its historic 72-mile underwater project to remove trash in Lake Tahoe. Since the clean up launched on May 14, 2021, the dive team collected 24,797 pieces of litter, bringing the total weight removed to 25,281 pounds.

As divers circumnavigated the lake, they recovered not only plastic bottles, cans and other “typical” litter, but items that included engagement rings, 1980’s Nikon film cameras, entire lamp-posts, “no littering” signs, massive pieces of broken down boats and engine blocks, lost wallets, cordless home telephones, a blackberry mobile phone, and more.

“Over the past year, despite winter weather, covid and wildfire related challenges, our dive team has been in the water at every opportunity to complete this unforgettable effort,” said Colin West, founder and executive director of Clean Up The Lake. “While the dive team has removed many expected and unexpected items along the way, ultimately what we hope people remember is the length that one group of individuals was willing to go to in order to protect their home and their planet, and in turn people should ask themselves how they are choosing to contribute to preserving our environment today.”

The project was made possible by a $100,000 matching donation from Tahoe Blue Vodka, contributions from more than 135 Tahoe Fund donors including Vail Resorts, and the Nevada Division of State Lands’ Lake Tahoe License Plate program and other local grant giving foundations.

As the project has ended, the statistics of the historic clean up are staggering and provide a glimpse into the growing pollution problem in Lake Tahoe. Here are a few statistics from Clean Up the Lake:

  • 25,281 pounds of submerged litter
  • 24,797 individual items
  • 81 total dive days
  • 189 separate dives
  • 626 cylinders of air used
  • 136+ volunteer participants
  • 6,715.75 volunteer hours
  • 54 hot spots
  • 482 heavy lift items
  • 4,527 aluminum cans removed
  • 468 tennis / golf balls removed
  • 171 tires removed
  • 127 anchors removed
  • 295 sunglasses removed

Clean Up The Lake will collaborate with scientific institutions and environmental consultants to study the recovered litter to develop a better understanding of its impact on Lake Tahoe. In addition, the Tahoe Fund with support from Tahoe Blue Vodka, recently announced it has commissioned artists to create a sculpture using some of the recovered items from the Lake. “Surfaced,” a permanent art installation, will be featured at the new Tahoe South Events Center to educate visitors about what lies beneath Tahoe’s blue waters.

Clean Up The Lake has also announced that they will be performing clean-ups across four lakes this year, beginning as soon as next week. This will include intensive monitoring projects on both Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake, a circumnavigated clean-up of Fallen Leaf Lake located within the Tahoe basin, and an expansion to the Mammoth Lakes region for the clean-up of June Lake. West said, “I still can’t quite grasp what our team has accomplished, completing this 72-mile clean-up is a testament to what our team is capable of, and we are just getting started.” 

See our full interview with Colin West of Clean Up the Lake on the Talking NorCal podcast:

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