LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Lake Mead’s blue waters and striking landscapes are a desert jewel in one of the most visited national recreation areas in the United States and it shows. Everywhere you look, you will find litter. So far this year, volunteers have removed 27,000 pounds of trash on and around the lake.
Ken Kotora is one of those volunteers and he has been cruising this lake for more than 30 years. He calls Lake Mead the best lake in the world. Sadly, others don’t treat it that way.
“It’s disgusting. People don’t care and they just leave their trash and it’s a bad thing,” he said.
Kotora volunteers his time driving volunteers around the lake to help pick up trash. He captains “The Oz” boat which stands for Operation Zero, one of the lake’s many efforts to help stop litter. He’s been helping since he retired from the City of Las Vegas in 2016.
Park Ranger Anna Blalock helps run the volunteer program at Lake Mead. She coordinates groups of four to six people to pick up trash at the lake. Each visit results in nearly 500 pounds of garbage collected.
“We bring volunteers out to one of these coves to pick up trash for an hour or so and as a way to say thank you, we take them to see the Hoover Dam,” she said.
Volunteers come out in the spring and fall but in recent years the number of volunteers has dwindled from 4,000 a year prior to the pandemic to around 1,000 a year now.
Less volunteers means more garbage on the lake which can pose a danger to animals and humans.
“Broken glass is a really big risk to wildlife and humans. We don’t want folks or wildlife stepping on broken glass. We also have fishing lines so that can get tangled up in the ducks and vegetation,” Blalock said.
Some of the strangest things they have found include an old Nokia phone and lots of boat cushions and boat seats. But some things they can’t remove.
“Anything that is over 50 years old we cannot throw away. So, a Coors can someone threw the side of their boat in the ’70s, unfortunately, we are not able to remove and we see a lot of that.”
Blalock said the reason is because those items are considered historical and are on public land which is protected by law. As the water level has decreased in recent years, some previously sunken boats have resurfaced. Currently, there is no plan to remove them.
Katora tells 8 News Now he plans to help clean up his beloved lake as long as he can.
“I sure love to see the lake getting cleaned up, especially around the beach areas. I also enjoy the enthusiasm the volunteers bring. They are really excited about it,” he said.
Volunteers make up just a small part of the team that helps remove trash but they have a big impact. Other efforts by the park include paying crews which costs the park $800,000 a year.
If you are interested in volunteering to pick up litter at Lake Mead, there are a few different opportunities. There are also other volunteer opportunities. You can find them all at this link.