Can You Dump Gray Water on the Ground When Dispersed Camping?

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While enjoying some dispersed camping, you’ll likely still have dishes to wash, showers to take, and teeth to brush. All of these activities will result in filling up your gray water tanks. Full tanks mean you may risk losing your precious campsite. 

So can you dump gray water on the ground instead of hunting down a dump station? Let’s take a look and see if this is a good option for your next camping trip.

What Is Gray Water?

When you use water in your RV, it ends up in your gray or black water tank. Gray water is what goes down the drains of your sinks and showers. This water is a collection of what you used for showering, washing your hands, and doing dishes. It will have soap and sometimes food particles from doing dishes.

However, black water is any water that goes down your toilet. This will contain raw sewage, and you need to treat it appropriately. You’ll want to handle black water as sanitarily as possible. If not, you’ll have quite a mess on your hands.

Can You Dump Gray Water on the Ground When Dispersed Camping? 

Six different agencies manage federal lands. However, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the only agency that does not expressly prohibit dumping gray water on public lands. However, state or local restrictions could have requirements for how to dispose of gray water properly.

It’s your responsibility to research if you plan to dump gray water on land managed by the BLM. Ignorance is not an excuse and likely won’t get you out of any fines you might receive from an enforcement agency.

What Does the BLM Have to Say About Dumping Gray Water?

If you plan to camp on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, it’s important to know their rules. However, when it comes to dumping gray water and BLM land, it’s somewhat unclear.

CFR 8365.1-1 talks about proper sanitation while using BLM lands. Instead of referencing “gray water,” they instead use the term “wash water.” The agency states this is the only type of water that you can drain outside of waste receptacles.

The Bureau of Land Management never defines “wash water” in any capacity, making the situation more difficult to understand. Is it only water you collected in a tub? Can wash water go into your gray water tank? There’s no clear definition or clarification available.  

Is It Safe to Dump Gray Water on the Ground?

When you choose to dump gray water on the ground, it does tremendous damage to the local ecosystems. Even if you decide to use soaps considered biodegradable, they can damage plants and other vegetation in the vicinity.

Not only can gray water damage vegetation, but scents from soaps can attract animals. If your gray water has fresh-smelling soap suds, you may unknowingly invite bears to your site. That’s most likely not the wake-up call you want in the morning.

Whether it’s legal or not, pouring your gray water on the ground is highly frowned upon in the RVing community. Dumping a few gallons of gray water after doing dishes is one thing, but some RVs have multiple gray tanks that hold over 50 gallons. 

Dumping a massive amount of gray water onto the ground can easily cause a messy situation for future campers. It’s best to leave no trace, which includes not leaving gray water behind after you leave.

Boondocking Hack: Use a Portable Waste Water Tote

You can consider using a portable wastewater tote if you love your boondocking spot so much that you don’t want to risk losing it by packing up to dump your tank. You can empty your gray water into the portable tote and then tow it to the nearest dump station.

Finding a dump station isn’t as hard as you might think. You can try nearby campgrounds first. You may want to give them a call to avoid wasting your time if they don’t allow dumping from non-campers. Using apps like Campendium and iOverlander are great options to search for dump stations at locations you might not consider.

Be a Responsible Camper and Dispose of Waste Water Properly

With so many dispersed camping locations shutting down, we have to make sure we’re all being responsible campers. You don’t want to be the reason a dispersed camping location shuts down. Make sure you dispose of wastewater properly, even if it is inconvenient.

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3 comments
  1. Tent campers dump the same gray water multiple times a day, but no one cares about that. Gray water is wash water period. No different than a tent campers wash water.

  2. I never knew that before! I still wouldn’t dump gray water on the ground, but in case of an emergency it’s good to know I can.

  3. We frequently dry camp in the California desert. We typically “circle the wagons” which leaves my drain to the outside of the camping circle. Depending on the camp configuration and where my drain is located I will dig a hole under the drain outlet and dump ONLY gray water from showers and dishes. Same as if I were tent camping. I make sure there is no water overflowing and running toward other camps. The water seeps into the ground and before I pull away I back fill the hole with the same dirt I dug out, grade it smooth and after pulling away I grade it once more to make it as clean or cleaner than when I arrived.

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