When you are boondocking, disposing of gray water is one of the biggest challenges you will face. Most RVers generate more gray water than black water. Gray water is what you used for washing your hand and dishes. The good news is that there are several ways to limit the amount of gray water you generate. You can also control the amount of fresh water you consume.
“Navy showers” are one such way along with the use of paper plates and plastic forks. Another trick is to catch shower water runoff and dishwater in small tubs. You can then use this collected water to flush your toilet. This handy trick not only conserves freshwater but also saves room in your gray water tank. You can also save water by wiping your dirty dishes first with a paper towel and just using little water to rinse them.
Guidelines and rules for the dumping of your gray water by state. Some states allow it, some don’t, and some have regulations that lie somewhere in the middle. In some states, shower water is legal to dump while kitchen water is not. Some stages classify dishwater as sewage so it is treated differently.
But federal organizations can sometimes impose even stricter regulations. For instance, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in some places prohibits the dumping of any kind of gray water, and in some, it is perfectly fine. To make things more confusing is the fact that state regulations sometimes take precedence over federal rules and vice versa. It can be a challenge to know which rules you are supposed to follow.
Areas open for boondocking include those managed by the BLM and the USFS. National parks, like the Grand Canyon and the Saguaro National Park, don’t allow boondocking and restrict camping to campground locations only.
During the hot summer months, it’s best to camp in the higher elevations above 7,000 ft where it’s cooler. This basically limits you to the national forests. Conversely, during the winter and early spring, the lower-elevation desert areas found on BLM land, are where you’ll want to boondock to avoid snow. Where you stay will dictate the gray water disposal restrictions you need to follow.
According to BLM, it is not illegal to dump gray water, or empty your gray tanks, on the ground in open, public BLM areas. This is primarily where dispersed camping is allowed. In areas where the BLM manages developed campgrounds, recreational areas, or wildlife preserves, they reserve the right to prohibit such activity on a case-by-case basis.
The guidelines state that on these lands, you are not allowed to drain sewage or petroleum products or dump refuse or waste other than wash water from any trailer or other vehicle except in places or receptacles provided for that purpose. The regulation does not specifically define, “wash water”, but it is understood to mean any water that was used for washing purposes.
That is the very definition of gray water so as long as your gray tank consists of water that was used for washing, it will be legal to dump it on the grounds. Everywhere else, it’s illegal. When you are boondocking on public lands, you will have to see the local regulations to know for sure.