Cell phones, bathing suits, hats, barbecue grill parts, boat parts and lots and lots of beer cans litter the bottom of Possum Kingdom Lake.
But thanks to volunteer divers, each year thousands of pounds of trash is removed from below Hell’s Gate, a popular site for visitors, and apparently, polluters.
The Brazos River Authority reservoir, located on the main stem of the Brazos River northwest of Fort Worth, receives millions of recreation visitors annually. Many enjoy actives at the public fishing piers, seven public boat ramps, 10 public access areas and 400 campsites.
Members of the Inland Divers Association appreciate the reservoir and its natural beauty so much they take time each year to help keep it clean so everyone can enjoy it for years to come.
The association is hosting its next cleanup event at 8 a.m. Sept. 7, 2019.
The BRA provides the dumpsters for the trash that’s recovered each year, said Reservoir Manager Blake Kettler.
Association Vice President Bobby Morrow said the BRA also often has lake rangers in the area to ensure passing boaters abide by Diver-Down flags. The red flag with a diagonal white stripe indicates to passing boats that a diver is below water and the boat is required to remain at least 50 feet from the flag. Between 50 feet and 150 feet, vessel operators must operate at headway speed.
“The BRA is absolutely great to work with,” he said. “They’ll have a patrol boat out there and keep the boats off us.”
Overall, it’s a team effort, Morrow said.
Sponsors help ensure there are boats available for the divers to use. The group is limited to four or five divers per boat, so the event can include up to 40 divers, Morrow said. Other dive groups help, including the Diving Rebels Scuba Club and the Scubadillo Dive Club. They do have spots available for divers. Those interested in helping can reach out here.
In 2018, the divers collected 4,000 pounds of trash with 30 divers, he said. Previous years have ranged from 2,000 pounds to 8,000 pounds, depending on the number of volunteers.
Morrow said the nonprofit, which has 15 active divers, tries to make the work fun for volunteers as well. The group provides free shirts and then feeds everyone after the work is completed. There are also numerous raffle opportunities, he said.
Hell’s Gate attracts the divers due to its popularity, Morrow said.
"Hell's Gate is the gathering place for a lot of folks, especially around holidays. Anything that can be on a boat can wind up in the lake,” Morrow said. “We find cell phones, laptops, bathing suits, towels, hats, wigs, parts of barbecue grills, parts of boats. But the biggest thing is trash, lots of beer cans and Red Bull cans, energy drink cans, water bottles, Gatorade bottles. That’s the part that really aggravates us. Nobody wants to throw their cell phone in the lake. But it’s all the folks, if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. They’ll sink their cans. There’s places we’ll go where you can’t touch the bottom because of the cans and bottles. It’s absolutely disgusting."
Dive teams take onion sacks to the bottom of the river, fill them up, and then float them to the surface where others are waiting to pick them up and take them to the shore.
Morrow said the group tends to stay toward the shore, and not in the middle of the reservoir, so as to not block those enjoying Possum Kingdom Lake on personal watercraft.
For many members of the Inland Divers Association, the cleanup efforts go on year-round.
Morrow said he had three dives scheduled for this Saturday with a few friends.
They’ll make games out of cleaning up the reservoir: Who can find the most unique sunglasses or who can find the strangest item. And the association is regularly called by people at the edge of docks begging them to go to the bottom for a dropped wallet or a drone, Morrow said. The association will assist with any recovery item when available, he said.
“This has been going on now for a long time,” he said. “For the most part, the majority of us are divers and we enjoy the beauty of the lake. We want to help keep the lake clean and preserve diving at Possum Kingdom.”
Anyone interested in hosting a cleanup event at one of the BRA reservoirs and is looking to partner with the organization is welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.