Pacific Bell ordered to remove miles of lead-leaching telephone cables from Lake Tahoe

Local News

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KTXL) — AT&T’s Pacific Bell company has been ordered to remove roughly 8 miles of abandoned telecommunication lines discovered at the bottom of Lake Tahoe.

A court settlement between the company and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance ended with Pacific Bell agreeing to remove the leaded cables and cover all costs for permitting and proper disposal.

The lines, discovered by divers and brought to authority’s attention by local nonprofit Below the Blue in 2020, had been abandoned by the company over 30 years ago.

The cables have been leaching toxic lead into the lake for decades, the nonprofit said in a statement Friday. Numerous tests have confirmed the presence of lead — about 3 pounds per foot, extending 8 miles from Baldwin Beach to Rubicon Bay — totaling over 60 tons of the heavy metal.

The nonprofit said the discovery of the cables is what led to the organization’s founding in the first place. Two of its founders, Seth Jones and Monique Rydel Fortner were the first to discover the cables since their abandonment.

The cables date back to the 1930s and were in use until the early 1990s, when Pacific Bell switched to fiber optic cables. The leaded cables were left behind.

At the time they were first laid, Below the Blue said the hazards of lead leaching into water was less-understood. Nowadays that’s far from the case.

“Now that the risks of such contamination are known, it is unfathomable to continue exposing Lake Tahoe’s residents and millions of visitors to potential harm,” Jones said.

Jones and Fortner said they have performed thousands of dives in Lake Tahoe to remove foreign objects and raise awareness of pollution in the lake. Commercial and industrial waste is known to be resting on the lakebed.

“The settlement is a step in the right direction, but the risks to the environment won’t be mitigated until the cables are out,” said Fortner. “The hope is that a continuing partnership between all those involved will make removal and disposal a reality.” 

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