LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KRON) — More than 300 volunteers, a dive team, and one beach-cleaning robot spread out across five Lake Tahoe beaches on July 5 to tackle trash left behind by holiday visitors.

Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular places in Northern California for celebrating the Fourth of July holiday. Once the crowds left on Tuesday, volunteers with League to Save Lake Tahoe dedicated their own time and effort to join the annual Keep Tahoe Red, White, and Blue Beach Cleanup and pick up 3,450 pounds of trash.

Litter-fighting teams removed 3,450 pounds of trash from the environment – litter that would have otherwise ended up in the lake’s crystal blue waters.

At Zephyr Shoals, volunteers said they found the beautiful beach cove “blanketed” in ugly piles of trash. They gathered over 2,700 pounds of cans, shoes, towels, beach chairs, and other waste in a Herculean effort.

Zephyr Shoals is seen littered with trash on the morning of July 5, 2022. (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service)
After a “Herculean” cleanup effort, litter was collected into large trash bags at Zephyr Shoals on the afternoon of July 5, 2022. (Photo by Jeff Cowen)

Clean Up The Lake’s team of divers were pleased by how little trash they found underwater near Nevada Beach. In 2021, as part of the group’s 72 Mile Cleanup, they removed 468 pounds of underwater garbage from the site through multiple dives.

“It’s great to see that Clean Up The Lake’s work underwater and Keep Tahoe Blue’s work on land is making it harder and harder for litter to enter the lake,” said Zac Smith, Clean Up The Lake outreach coordinator. “We all can, and must, prevent litter before it gets into Lake Tahoe.”

For the past eight years, residents and visitors have organized beach cleanups every July 5 and tabulated data on what they find. The long-term dataset shows a trend away from large heavy trash — such as coolers, lawn chairs, floaties — and toward smaller and lighter litter items.

BEBOT, a beach-cleaning robot, sifted through the top few inches of sand to find hundreds of small litter items. Human volunteers removed 2,500 cigarette butts and 4,260 bits of plastic.

BEBOT the beach-cleaning robot was hard at work Tuesday. (Photo by Katy Jo)

“Out of sight cannot be out of mind if we want to Keep Tahoe Blue,” said Jesse Patterson, chief strategy officer for the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “We need to use every tool in the toolbox to combat pollution on our beaches. Volunteers on land, divers in the water, and innovative technology like the BEBOT are all crucial components.”

The League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known by its iconic slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue,” is Tahoe’s oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.

Clean Up The Lake is a nonprofit that uses SCUBA and dive teams for underwater trash cleanups. The divers collected more than 40,000 pounds of litter from under the surface of Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe in the last 18 months.