Stateline, Nev. ( Associated Press) — They found no trace of a mythical sea monster, no trace of mobsters in cement boots or a long-lost treasure.
But scuba divers who have spent a year cleaning up the entire 72-mile (115-kilometer) shoreline of Lake Tahoe, they expect will prove to be much more valuable: tons and garbage.
In addition to removing 25,000 pounds (11,339 kg) of underwater litter since last May, divers and volunteers have been carefully sorting and logging waste types and GPS locations.
The dozen dives that ended this week were part of a first of their kind effort to learn more about the source and potential damage caused by plastics and other pollutants in the storied alpine lake on the California-Nevada line.
It has also taken organizers on a journey through the history, folklore, and evolution of the lake above the Sierra Nevada, which has enough water to cover the entirety of California to 14 inches (36 cm) deep.
The Washoe tribe fished the turquoise-blue Tahoe for centuries before expanding westward in the mid-1800s, leading to a decline like railroads, lumber barons, and eventually Gatsby, which became a playground for the rich and famous. .
Tahoe’s first casino was built in 1902 by Elias Jay “Lucky” Baldwin, who owned a large part of East Los Angeles and built the flagship Santa Anita Horse Track in 1907. The massive lakefront estates were followed for decades, with one of them being used for filming. “Godfather II.”
Cleanup organizers say the one thing locals ask most is whether they have found any gangster remains near the north coast. It was here that Frank Sinatra lost his gaming license in the 1960s for allegedly befriending organized crime bosses at his Cal-Neva hotel-casino.
The recovered debris mostly included things like bottles, tyres, fishing gear and sunglasses.
But Colin West, founder of the nonprofit environmental group that launched the Clean Up the Lake Project, said there have been some surprises.
Divers are thought to have seen planks of a shipwreck near Dead Man Point, where Aboriginal tales tell of a Loch-ness-monster-like creature—later called “Tahoe Tessy”—was of Cave Rock. stays below.
They also included some “no littering” signs, engine blocks, lamp posts, a diamond ring and “those weird, fake plastic owls that sit on boats to scare away birds,” West said.
“It’s shocking to see how much garbage has accumulated at the bottom of such a pristine lake,” said Matt Levitt, founder and CEO of Tahoe Blue Vodka, which has contributed $100,000 to the cleanup.
Their businesses are among many – including hotels, casinos and ski resorts – dependent on more than 15 million people, which Mark Twain described in “Roughing It” in 1872 as “the best picture of the whole earth”. Come annually to soak up the view. ,
“This is our economic engine,” Levitt said.
And while most contributors and volunteers were primarily motivated to help beautify the lake, it’s when litter piles up in ashes that gets scientists excited.
Shoreline cleaning has been going on for years across the country, from Arizona to the Great Lakes, Pennsylvania, and Florida. But that waste goes into the recycle bin and garbage bag for disposal.
Each piece from 189 different Tahoe dives to a depth of 25 feet (8 meters) was charted by GPS and carefully divided into categories including plastic, metal, and fabric.
Plastics are important because international research is increasingly showing that some types can break down into smaller pieces known as microplastics.
Scientists are still studying the extent and human loss from small fragments. But the National Academy of Sciences said in December that the US, the world’s top plastic-waste producer, should reduce its production of plastic because so much wind moves across oceans and waterways.
Biochemist, Zoe Harold, lead scientists at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, first documented microplastics in Tahoe in 2019. She was the lead author of Clean Up the Lake’s 2021 report on the 6-mile (10-kilometer) pilot project.
“If left in place, the ongoing degradation of submerged litter, particularly plastics and rubber, will continue to slowly release microplastics and lead into the azure waters of Lake Tahoe,” Harold wrote.
The cleanup comes half a century after scientists began measuring Tahoe’s declining clarity as the basin began to experience explosive growth.
Most credit, or blame, the completion of the interstate system near Tahoe City for the 1960 Winter Olympics. For the first time on television, it introduced the world to a lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks.
By 1960-80, the population of Tahoe increased from 10,000 to 50,000 – 90,000 in the summer, the US Geological Survey said. Peak days have now approached 300,000.
“What we’re taking out is basically the result of the human impact of recreating, living and creating a community in the Lake Tahoe area,” West said.
His group plans to dive into other Sierra lakes this year, including June Lake, east of Yosemite National Park, and will expand future Tahoe discoveries to deeper depths.
The non-profit Tahoe Fund, which also helped raise $100,000 for the cleanup effort, is commissioning artists to create a sculpture made of Tahoe waste at an event center being built at Stateline on the south shore of the lake .
“Our hope is that this will inspire more environmental stewardship and remind those who love Lake Tahoe that it is up to all of us to take care of it,” said Tahoe Fund CEO Amy Berry.