Local Nonprofit Takes Action to Preserve Beloved Lakes


Clean Up The Lake (CUTL) is a nonprofit organization based in the Truckee/Tahoe area that removes litter in and around our local lakes to preserve our environment for generations to come.

If you live in our area you’ve probably heard of Leave No Trace. There are seven basic principles that describe how we can decrease our human impact while recreating outdoors. Its basic message is to respect the area you are in and to clean up after yourself and others.

Sadly, not everybody abides by these principles and that is reflected in the condition of our planet and local habitat. This carelessness can be seen in part in the garbage around lakes like Tahoe and Donner and its presence in other public places.

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, according to Keep Tahoe Blue (KTB).

Big Blue’s clear, sapphire waters bring people from all over to bask in its allure. 

KTB also says that “Tahoe’s clarity has diminished considerably since 1968 when clarity was measured at over 100 feet.” Currently the clarity is at 70 feet, meaning at depths of 70 feet the bottom is often visible. All the people that Tahoe attracts bring pollution and their actions like littering can directly affect the clarity and degrade the beauty of this prized lake.

Founder of Clean Up The Lake, Colin West, was inspired by the unfortunate amount of trash he encountered on the beaches of Belize. Seeing the dirty beaches and observing a group of divers near Bonsai Rock sparked his idea to create CUTL to combat pollution in his home area. 

So began the pilot mission, a 72-mile clean up around Lake Tahoe. Waste has “accumulated there for decades and decades and decades,” Zachery Smith, the outreach and communication coordinator for the organization said regarding litter in Tahoe’s waters.

Clean Up The Lake has expanded its arena to include new lakes. In 2022, the organization has a goal to work on four lakes. Fallen Leaf and June Lake projects are being started as well as monitoring their past projects at Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake to obtain further data in order to take action. Overall, Clean Up The Lake has removed 55,944 pounds of garbage as of October 31st.

In the two new projects, CUTL will circumnavigate and dive to retrieve garbage under 50 pounds in the areas of 0-25 feet of depth. At the lakes they are monitoring, Clean Up The Lake will go back over the shallow areas previously covered, paying close attention to trash “hotspots.”

After the cleanups CUTL sorts litter based on material, substrate, and where it was found. This method of data collection allows them to determine where trash is commonly found, who generates it, and why it gathers there.

For example at the popular east shore beach Sand Harbor, CUTL expected to see trash on the beach or floating in the water. However, during their 72-mile cleanup, the organization found that due to the water currents, litter had amassed in the rocks under the surface, especially beverage cans.

“By far the most common are cans, bottles…” Smith claimed. CUTL has picked up approximately 9,900 cans. Building 180 is working with them to create an art exhibit to reuse some of the waste. The organization wishes to advocate for proper trash disposal by taking the collected items to be recycled or to the dump. 

An alarming abundance of tires was removed from our local lakes, especially Fallen Leaf Lake where CUTL removed over 100 tires. If you need to get rid of tires it only costs $11 to $19 to dispose of them at the Truckee regional landfill.

The CUTL organization is fully nonprofit, meaning all the funding for their work comes from donations. To execute cleanup missions, donations and partnerships are needed to purchase the equipment necessary. “We have had hundreds of people who have donated everything from 5 to 100,000 dollars,” Smith said. Both individuals and big partnerships (like Tahoe Blue Vodka and the Nevada Division of State Lands) can both pitch in to help the cause. 

Clean Up The Lake also relies on the jet skis, kayaks, diving equipment, and boats provided by volunteers. If you wish to take part, especially if you have the equipment, a diving certification, or other experience you can fill out a volunteer application here.

“Our end goal is to give people the conscience and the knowledge and the know-how to not litter,” Smith concluded. 

However, this change cannot occur without everyone (tourists and locals alike) on board. If you see trash… pick it up! To keep our majestic alpine lakes clear and beautiful for years to come, Leave No Trace and do your part to clean up the lakes.