Dumping gray water while camping is an absolute no-no. Or is it?
Most state and federal laws are pretty clear that you can’t just dump graywater where you want. The Bureau of Land Management, however, takes a looser stance.
Many mobile home owners refuse to dispose of their gray water. So is it okay to dump gray water on the ground? And if so, should you? If you’re asking yourself these questions, read on to learn what you can do with your graywater.
What is gray water?
Let’s clearly define gray water. A mobile home’s gray tank holds all the water that does not go into the toilet. This includes water from the kitchen sink, shower and bathroom sink. It is clean, used water, but contains some food particles and soap residue.
Water you use for hand washing, brushing your teeth, showering, washing dishes, or similar tasks becomes gray water. It flows directly into your gray tank.
Although gray water is naturally cleaner than black water, it can still have an odor. As food particles break down, they give off unpleasant odors. Many RV owners use a gray tank additive to help contain these odors.
This makes the gray tank smell better, but the chemicals reinforce the need to dispose of this water at an approved disposal station.
Does gray water have a negative impact on the environment?
I have a habit of disposing of soapy dishwater through the back door of our RV. It’s easy for me to think that this small amount of water does no harm. But soaps, food scraps and tank additives can and do have a negative impact on the environment.
Food scraps, in particular, can attract small animals to your campsite. The food scraps have probably soaked up the dishwashing liquid, and then when those cute little chipmunks swallow them, problems arise.
Effects on soil and water sources
Discharging graywater while camping can not only affect wildlife, but also cause soil erosion. If you are in an area where discharging gray water is allowed, remember to spread the water over a large area.
Don’t create erosion hot spots. RV tanks can hold up to 35 gallons, and some RVs have multiple tanks. So Releasing that much water in one area will likely damage the soil and plant life..
If graywater is dumped on the ground illegal?
The US Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, and National Park Service all have regulations prohibiting the discharge of black and gray water on public lands. Certain sites may have more sensitive ecology, which is the main reason there is no blanket answer that applies to all.
The Army Corps of Engineers deals primarily with lakes, streams, and rivers. Therefore, they are naturally concerned about any contamination in natural waters and prohibit the discharge of gray water.
The National Park Service manages land throughout the country, but restricts camping primarily to designated campgrounds. Understandably, all campgrounds have their own rules depending on local conditions, and none allow the discharge of graywater.
The US Forest Service does allow dispersed camping, but it is advisable to check the rules for each area before setting out on your adventure. I was able to find a flyer from the White Mountain Ranger Station that states that dumping gray water is allowed.
Is old dishwater that should not be disposed of just anywhere. If you are going to wash yourself or your dishes, keep the water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter rinsed dishwater
In the backcountry, be careful not to dispose of gray water near freshwater sources and use biodegradable soap. Campgrounds usually have designated areas for disposing of gray water.
White Mountain Ranger Station Free Camping
It is difficult to find the rules for draining gray water at the National Forest Service, so it is best to just leave it alone.
The BLM is the only agency that does not strictly prohibit the discharge of graywater into the ground. However, it uses the term “wash water” to define the type of graywater that may be disposed.
While the BLM does not define that graywater must be disposed of separately from the gray tank, some Boondockers believe that the rule refers to water collected outside the tank.
For example, it is okay to dispose of water from washing dishes in a bucket, while water that goes down the drain is not. Disposal of gray water is much debated among RVers, and at a recent truck camper rally we attended in Quartzsite, Arizona, this was the topic of much discussion.
However, the BLM makes no distinction between water in a gray tank and water in a bucket or tub. It simply states that it is OK not to dispose of anything other than “wash water”.
At established BLM campgrounds, such as the one I described above, dumping gray water is not allowed. So it is important to check the specific rules where you decide to camp.
State and local laws about disposing of graywater in RVs.
State public lands are popular areas for RVs and mobile homes. The BLM does not strictly prohibit the discharge of graywater in some areas, local and state laws may override this permission. Find out what the laws and restrictions are in your area.
Don’t assume that because the BLM allows dumping that the state or local governments do too. I did some research on the rules in some West Coast states where outdoor camping is popular. Here is what I found:
General recreation rules for the forest and public conduct., 629-025-0040
- (a) On all state forest land, unless otherwise authorized, a person shall not deposit or leave in any manner any refuse, garbage, garbage, organic or inorganic waste, sick or dead animals, recreational vehicle sewage, or other objectionable matter or abandoned property or material on state forest land. A person shall not:
- (B) Discharge sewage or petroleum products or dump garbage or refuse, other than gray water, unless directed to designated places or receptacles;
I am surprised by this provisionI would not have thought that the disposal of gray water was allowed at all. I could not find any specific discharge regulations for graywater beyond this simple statement.
I searched the Washington State Department of Natural Resources website and did several Google searches. I still could not find a specific regulation on the discharge of graywater.
My inability to easily find the answer actually leads to some confusion about this issue. So, I’m still not dumping graywater while scattered camping in Washington. But I could not find documentation either way.
Again, I can find no specific regulations for graywater in California. However, the state has a robust graywater reuse program, whereby the water can be used for landscape irrigation. The rules around the reuse program are substantial.
They state that graywater can only be used on the property where it was generated. This leads me to believe that the disposal of graywater by mobile homes is probably not allowed because it is not generated on private property.
California parks also have major problems with bears. In fact, last summer when driving into Yosemite Tuolumne Meadows Campground, I was given a bear information sheet.
When hikers and campers don’t use the Leave No Trace principle, bears and other wildlife become accustomed to humans as a food source. Since gray water usually contains food particles, disposal increases dependence on humans and thus exacerbates the overall bear problem.
Is it OK to dump graywater from mobile homes on private property??
All states have laws prohibiting the discharge of gray water into the ground. However, most of these laws are written for homeowners. They specify how many gallons of water may be discharged at one time and how it is used.
Discharging water on private property is limited primarily to watering lawns and flower beds. Generally, state laws specify the need for drip systems to prevent an area from eroding from the simultaneous discharge of large volumes.
Private property owners sometimes set up mobile home landfills where wastewater is discharged to the wastewater treatment plant or public water system. This type of system is the only safe way to dispose of wastewater. However, graywater can also be disposed of on private property that you own.
If a friend allows you to camp on their property, don’t be the one to take advantage of a convenient opportunity. Safely dispose of gray water at a disposal station after your camping trip.
Leave no trace
We strongly believe in the principles of Leave No Trace. So when we pack something in, we pack it out. And that also applies to gray water.
We don’t dump our gray water tank on public property. But I throw a pot of dishwater out the back door without thinking twice about it. But should we?
The Leave No Trace principles state quite simply:
Applying these principles to the discussion of graywater disposal in camping helps us clarify the answer.
In 99.9% of cases, graywater should not be dumped on the ground. Even if it is legal in the area where you are camping, as good environmentalists we should only dump at approved disposal stations.
How to safely handle gray water
The first way to safely handle graywater is to know the rules. The first step is to know the rules, whether you’re camping at a campground or in the great outdoors. Federal and state campgrounds usually have the rules posted, so this is an easy way to know what is allowed.
It is becoming more common to see signs on faucets stating that they are not to be used for washing dishes. I remember when I was a kid camping and my mom would send us to the communal taps with the dishes.
We would meet kids from other camps there and they would all scrub pots and pans and get to know each other. Today, many campsites prohibit washing dishes at the faucet.
Some other ways to safely handle gray water are:
Where to put the gray water from the camper? Legitimate?
The best alternative for disposing of gray water is to use a permitted RV landfill. Many states offer free disposal stations at rest areas or small city parks. For the past three years, we have traveled throughout the United States full-time and rarely paid for disposal stations or water refills.
Search for “dump stations near me” on Google Maps for a list of gas stations that offer this service.
Many gas stations, such as Love’s or Pilot, offer paid dumping services. Usually around $10 per use, these tanks are easy to get to for a quick stop.
At most gas stations, you must pay and surrender your driver’s license before you can get the key to the padlock on the lid of the tank. After unlocking the lid, you simply return the key and get your driver’s license back.
RV parks and campgrounds also often offer a dumping service. Sometimes there is a fee for this, but some campgrounds offer this service for free.
We have found that national park campgrounds rarely charge for dumping, even if it is stated on their website. The rangers or park rangers provided us with the facilities free of charge.
Websites and apps are good places to start to find out where to dump RV tanks. For example, check out Sanidumps.com. It’s a community-oriented website where users can add new locations or comment on existing ones. The ioverlander app uses an image of an RV with a downward-pointing arrow to easily show the dumping locations. App users provide comments to update the status of dump sites and campsites.