In a time where there's so much uncertainty, there is one thing we can all agree on: Lake Tahoe — and the surrounding areas — are accumulating trash. It's time to clean up the lake.
In 2021, Tahoe Dive Center owner Matt Meunier and Clean Up the Lake founder Colin West plan to spend four months scuba diving around the 72 mile perimeter of Lake Tahoe to pick up garbage — an undertaking that will be arguably the biggest cleanup in Tahoe’s history. While this historic clean up was initially slated to take part this summer, a little something called COVID-19 happened and derailed their timeline... but not their mission.
We recently sat down with Colin to learn more about how Clean Up The Lake has pivoted in recent months, and how to get involved:
Obviously COVID-19 has affected virtually every industry and movement. Can you tell us how Clean Up The Lake has had to pivot these past few months? What are some unexpected "silver linings" coming out of this?
It's been a doozy. In early March we had finally hit the BEST moment ever. Our first in-person event (thrown in short notice) had 100+ people show up, funds were being raised quite quickly and really gaining momentum, and we were getting the resources we needed to do the 72 mile clean up this summer. Then COVID hit. We lost our two key staff during the pandemic, I spent more time than I could have imagined working in order to rethink our approach and overall business strategy as an NPO. We lost our restaurant/hotel and small business donor base, which in Tahoe was where we were garnishing the most support. We postponed the 72 mile clean up and I basically began rebuilding the NPO's strategies from scratch, or at least what felt that way.
The silver lining was that we got to eventually get back out diving in early summer and begin to test clean up strategies. So instead of learning on-the-fly during the 72 mile clean up, we have improved our tactical approach with surface support (including discovering how important free diver volunteers and kayaker volunteers are for our team!) and really began to improve what was an idea, and see it in action and improve upon it. Also, we've even got to do a clean up outside of Tahoe... read on!
Donner Lake is right in our backyard — tell us what you're doing over there! Has Donner always been on your radar?
So with this extra time, we've come up with a pilot program to support our North Lake community by doing a full scale scuba and shore clean up at Donner Lake working in association with California State Lands Commission, California Film Commission and Truckee Donner Recs + Park. Oh! And a 12 year old girl named Ella Hoyer expressed a dream of putting signage on all the public piers at Donner to encourage people to pick up their trash, and we're working with her to make this dream come true! We are already progressing nicely with the Board at TDRPD to do the signs, and we have cleaned over 2,500 pounds of trash from underneath Donner so far, not counting what is on the shore!
How can Truckee Tahoe locals get involved? What do you need the most help with right now?
Right now we really need donations
and financial support. After COVID, we've managed to find some incremental ways of bringing in funds — yet our budgets to clean up Lake Tahoe next year are quite large. The more time we spend trying to raise those funds, the more time that gets taken away from more productive clean up and data analysis programs. Every donation counts, and anything anyone can do to help would be amazing and will allow us to focus more on our mission. We are also seeking those individuals that may want to form a larger long-term donor relationship with us and become a big part of our organization, and really, truly, help us clean up the lake!
Learn more about this year's efforts in Donner Lake and donate via the GoFundMe here. To donate to next year's mission to clean up Lake Tahoe, click here.
What are some of the most unusual things you've found in your dives (historic and/or random)?
This ranges! The sunglasses on my head right now are definitely scuba-trash, yet "one man's trash is another man's treasure" right?!
There are lots of old beer cans with pull-tab closures that were done being made in the 1980's so around 40-45 years old; some old PEPSI COLA cans that are fun to see. However, if there is anything that is 50+ years old, we actually have to leave it behind in the lake because it is a historical artifact and only archeologists can remove those. For instance, we recently came across an old 25 foot+ steel boat that was sunk in Donner — unsure of the age but we definitely aren't touching it, so we left it behind and marked its GPS location on a software program that we can present to government or scientific agencies later on down the line.
In your eyes, what are a few feasible things we all can (and should) do to minimize our footprint and be more sustainable?
Look at what you're buying. This morning at a coffee shop I wanted a savory snack, but it was wrapped in plastic. So I got the cinnamon, apple, caramel drizzle instead... now that might not be good for my gut, but I ditched the plastic! I also make sure to have reusable mugs and reusable beer cups when we go to street festivals like Truckee Thursdays (hopefully next year!). Try to buy things in bulk and look at where there is plastic in your life and what you can cut out (tooth brush, toothpaste, get reusable makeup wipes, wooden cotton swabs vs. Q-tips, use shampoo bars and bar-versions of lotion/conditioner, etc. Or, at least buy the bulk kinds and refill!)
Also, it's important to see what organizations or leaders are doing in your community. Go to city council meetings and voice your opinion during public comment about getting the government to SUPPORT programs like ours, or other NPOs doing similar things. Or, get them to address overflowing trash cans at your favorite beach and increase their funding in their own city staff to add garbage cans or increase the number of pickups they do in tourist season, etc. Plenty to do, but it takes an army and we've all got to take this step together.
Stay sustainable, and shop our reusable insulated steel Mizu travel mug here. For more information on Clean Up The Lake, visit them online here.