LAKE STEVENS — Bottles, cans, clothing, fishing gear, phones and towels came up from the depths of Lake Stevens, covered in silty mud.
They were relics of revelry and possibly poor judgement by the people who lost or tossed them into the water near Davies Beach, the three-acre city park with a fishing pier and boat launch on the west side of the lake.
“It’s my way of giving back to the lake that we grew up boating on,” said Kyle Nowadnick, a 36-year-old divemaster from Snohomish.
He was one of 12 divers and nine others who stayed above the water to collect the detritus collected from about 20 feet under the lake’s surface. The divers worked in pairs, one experienced and one inexperienced, and set to a loosely designated area around the boat launch and fishing pier. Only flashes of colorful accents on wetsuits and movement were visible in the dark, murky water on a cloudy, drizzly day.
As they descended, they looked for the glare or shape of a bottle or can. Other times the divers would feel along the bottom, careful not to cut themselves on broken glass or smashed aluminum cans. Some of the divers saw trout cruise by, keeping an eye on the people.
The visibility was very poor near the bottom, divers said.
“If you just picked up something, you couldn’t see a thing,” Nowadnick said.
Divers filled mesh bags, then brought them to the surface to be dumped into sturdier trash bags.
After about 90 minutes in the water, divers had removed an estimated 200 pounds of garbage, including maybe a dozen crayfish hiding in bottles, cans and even a sock. A newer iPhone was hauled out and powered on to show a picture of an Asplundh truck in the password-protected lock screen.
The volunteers could have spent a day just there to gather more, but the city had asked them also to clean near North Cove Park on the lake’s northeast spur. Evergreen Dive Service manager Adria Ali, who organized the event, said the seven divers who continued to the second location found similar items there: bottles, cans, cellphones, dog toys, hair ties, sunglasses and towels.
“Divers in general are happy to volunteer their time,” Ali said. “It’s something different for us to do.”
Water quality in Lake Stevens is rated as excellent by the Snohomish County Surface Water Management department. The county monitors waters for pollutants and nutrients, with an eye on high levels of phosphorous, which can spur certain algae blooms toxic to animals and people.
“There’s only so much fresh water in the world and it’s important to preserve and protect that,” said Marisa Burghdoff, a county water quality specialist with the lake management program. “Pollution sources from all those homes, even tiny amounts from all those homes, can add up in the lake.”
The county encourages people living near creeks, lakes, rivers, saltwater and streams to properly dispose of pet feces, tend to their septic systems, leave grass clippings in the lawn and use fertilizers without phosphorous. The city of Lake Stevens has a similar educational program, I Love Lake.
Garbage, even when it sinks out of sight, is pernicious for the ecosystem and recreation. It’s unsightly, can entangle swimmers and motors, and can harm wildlife when ingested.
“If you have trash and littering, if you’re a lake user it reduces the aesthetic value of the lake,” Burghdoff said. “You don’t want to swim in it if you see a bunch of debris … One of the biggest emerging problems with trash in our waters is plastic pollution.”
Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, instead breaking down into smaller pieces, which can be ingested and accumulate in animal stomachs — leaving little room for their actual nutrition, as well as releasing toxins into the food web.
The Everett-based dive shop has organized annual cleanups for several years, including one in 2018 at Kayak Point Regional County Park that yielded a bicycle among the usual trash. But Evergreen Dive Service skipped last year to comply with public health guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, some divers went out on their own and explored the lake.
“We noticed lots and lots of trash,” Ali said.
The dive shop, which asks for volunteer divers and plies them with air fills, coffee and donuts, has a long relationship with the Lake Stevens area because it rents the Lake Stevens High School pool monthly for training. After seeing the trash in the water last summer, Ali coordinated with city staff on the organized cleanup and said she hopes to schedule another one at the end of summer, after the busy boating season.
Snohomish County previously owned and maintained Davies Beach and boat launch as Willard Wyatt County Park, until it transferred ownership to the city in February 2020.
Lake Stevens drains north to Catherine Creek and eventually to the Pilchuck River, which flows into the Snohomish River and out to Possession Sound.
“Everything eventually is going to end up in Puget Sound,” Burghdoff said. “Don’t put trash in the lake.”