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Help Save Lake Merritt & Lake Merritt Institute

Tax deductible
For decades, the Lake Merritt Institute (Click here for more info) has worked to keep our Downtown Oakland lake and estuary clean. We are a community-oriented nonprofit that is sponsored by a contract with the City of Oakland and by donations from supporters. We remove between 1,000 to 5,000 pounds of trash directly from Lake Merritt each month. Our mission is to ensure the biological sustainability of Lake Merritt in any way that we can.

In August of 2022, zero oxygen levels in the Lake triggered a massive fish kill. This story made national headlines (linked below), and brought tremendous stress to Lake Merritt’s ecosystem. The City of Oakland is planning a pilot project to oxygenate the lake--possibly with bubbler pipes or other technology. This isn’t likely to be ready before the summer, unfortunately, and currently it will only address a portion of Lake Merritt.

There is an urgent risk of another fish die-off occurring again this summer--so we’re reaching out to our community for help.

The Lake Merritt Institute is seeking $150,000 so that we can help prevent another fish die-off and strengthen the ability of our volunteers and staff to clean up Lake Merritt.

For all of us who love Lake Merritt and call Oakland home: this is a chance to truly make a difference!

How we will spend the funds:

We need a system to begin oxygenating this lake now, before summer. Lake Merritt (which is actually a tidal estuary or lagoon linked to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean) once got enough oxygen from tidal flow to support a thriving ecosystem. But, over 60 years ago the 7th Street dam and tidal gates were built, reducing the tidal flow. The accumulation of sedimentation and other debris entering the lake over the years has meant that our existing aeration fountains (which have been the primary way of oxygenating small portions of the lake for the past 20 years) are too shallow to run in the many places where they would help.
  • $18,000 would help us install four new shallow-water aerators throughout the lake. These aerators will create islands of oxygenated water where fish can find refuge when oxygen levels decline again.

The City recently deployed two water quality monitoring buoys to measure oxygen, nutrients, salinity and acidity. In addition, the Lake Merritt Institute is installing another (here's ours, down below!) Unfortunately, none are in the channel through which tidal flows enter and exit the Lake.
  • $20,000 will help us install a monitoring buoy for one year in the channel to measure nutrients and other water quality characteristics. This system will offer us crucial data for building a lake-wide oxygenation system.

Due to inadequate funding, the Institute operates with a skeletal staff focused on coordinating trash pick-ups (and tracking how much trash is entering the lake), assisting with scientific observations, maintaining and repairing existing aeration fountains, educating students in coordination with other nonprofits, and more. It's a lot for a very small staff.

We have not had the bandwidth to support a social media presence and are short of help to produce our newsletter, maintain bulletin boards and informational campaigns, and monitor water quality as frequently as we would like to (here are great examples of the kind of data we track). We also need a new accountant as our current one (who gave us quite the discount) has retired.
  • $78,000 would help us add staffing and contracting resources to tackle these issues.

Due to the LMI's work to remove trash from the Lake, cleaning equipment gets excessive wear and tear. The Institute needs new nets and trash barrels, as well as protective gear such as gloves and boots. Volunteers that are coordinated by the Institute need this equipment to do their job.
  • $1,000-$5,000 would help us replace the old equipment, most of which is over ten years old.

Thieves stole the Institute’s quad utility vehicle, which made hauling bags of trash easier and less costly than using the LMI truck (which keeps breaking down).
  • $22,000 is needed for an electric quad utility vehicle. We can then use this to replace the truck and speed up our ability to coordinate with volunteering teams to pick up trash.

Additionally, $6,000 is our estimate to cover the cost of this campaign--including credit card fees and any help with website work or other things needed to meet our goals.

Currently, the lesser of two city contracts proposed for 2023-4, would not meet requirements to keep Lake Merritt clean, improve water quality, and help prevent future fish kills. It would also come too late for the urgent priorities.

We would greatly appreciate it if our Oakland community, which has incredible resources, can help us meet these goals.

With your help, we can prevent another fish kill this summer!

Stretch Goals:

If we are able to meet our immediate goals, we would like to also start raising money to contribute to a lake-wide oxygenation system—which we estimate would be more than $2 Million. This system would take more time to implement and require design and implementation with City and all other stakeholders. It would also be determined by the oxygenation levels observed over the next few months. However: getting the funds would be an important first step!

Important Donor Info:
  • The Lake Merritt Institute (EIN# 943214160) is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, so your contributions are tax-deductible.
  • We should also qualify for matching donations if your employer offers a donation match!

Relevant Articles:


San Jose Mercury News

LA Times


  • Patricia Arabia
    • $50 
    • 3 mos
  • Charles Brooks
    • $10 
    • 4 mos
  • Anonymous
    • $100 
    • 5 mos
  • Victoria Zerbs
    • $50 
    • 7 mos
  • Bryan Dyer
    • $25 
    • 8 mos


Lake Merritt Institute (Oakland Parks & Recreation)
Registered nonprofit
Donations are typically 100% tax deductible in the US.

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