Is Dumping RV Gray Water Illegal?
If you are camping off-grid, you may find that your RV gray water tank fills up more quickly than your black tank. You may also find many of your fellow campers will dump their gray water on the ground. Whether or not that is legal depends on where you are. However, assume that it is not legal, and find a dump station.
National Forests and Gray Water
Surprisingly, dumping gray water in a National Forest is allowed; however, the USFS seems to assume that campers will only dump a very small amount, not an entire tank full.
Here are the rules for a National Forest: “Old dishwater shouldn’t be dumped anywhere. Carry gray water at least 200 feet away from lakes or streams and only use a small amount of biodegradable soap.”
As you can see, the important thing is to not dump your gray water into a freshwater source and to use biodegradable soap.
If you must dump your gray water in a National Forest, just dump a little at a time. One other way to get rid of gray water around camp is to drain it into a bucket and use it to extinguish your campfire.
The rules around dumping gray water also vary from state to state, as do the definition of gray water. For example, in Arizona, you can dump “wash water” on the ground; however, Arizona defines wash water as shower water or clothes washer water, not kitchen sink water. Kitchen sink water has bits of food and grease, which Arizona considers sewage.
So while the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management rules may say it’s OK, you could still get in trouble with the state of Arizona. Keep in mind, every single one of the 50 states has a different law concerning gray water dumping.
Balancing Gray and Black
One way to manage your gray water is to dump some of it into the black tank. This will help keep the gray and black tanks more evenly full. For example, you can do your dishwashing in a small plastic tub, then use that gray water to flush the toilet. The soapy water will also help to break down the sewage in the black tank and help keep it cleaner.
If You Must Dump Gray Water
If you can’t get to a dump station, use a sewer cap with a hose attachment. Have a hose dedicated to gray water dumping; never use your fresh water hose to dump gray water!
Attach the hose to the sewer cap, and lead it away from your RV into some bushes. Only open the valve a little bit, to allow it to drip. This will give the ground time to absorb it. Of course, try to get to a dump station instead.