Can You Dump Gray Water On The Ground? Laws & Options

March 17, 2024
Can you dump gray water on the ground?

If you’re just getting started RVing or simply want to minimize the amount of work on your trips, it’s only natural to wonder if you can dump gray water on the ground.

It seems relatively harmless at first, but does that mean you should be casually disposing of it? And is it even legal to do so?

These are all questions we had when we got our first camper, and we quickly learned what was allowed and what wasn’t. This guide covers everything you need to know. 

What Is Considered Gray Water?

When we talk about gray water, we’re referring to the wastewater that comes from non-toilet sources within an RV, primarily the shower, bathroom sink, and kitchen sink. In simple terms, gray water is the byproduct of your daily activities such as washing dishes, hands, doing laundry, and taking showers.

While gray water may seem harmless compared to black water, it’s essential to point out that it’s not potable. This means we can’t drink it or use it in its untreated form. It may contain various contaminants such as soap, shampoo, small food particles, bacteria, and other pollutants. These contaminants, though less hazardous than those found in black water, still pose a potential risk if not dealt with correctly.

Can You Dump Gray Water On The Ground? 

While it might seem like an easy solution, you typically can’t just dump gray water on the ground. Most states and properties have laws against this.

If you’re camping in an RV, for instance, you’re typically required to use approved dumping stations, private septic tanks, or recycling systems to dispose of your gray water. That’s why it’s important to research and adhere to unique state laws regarding gray water disposal wherever you camp.

The negative impact dumping gray water can have on the environment and wildlife is the main reason for these laws. Dumping gray water can attract animals and insects, potentially causing an imbalance in local ecosystems and health issues for animals that aren’t accustomed to human food. Moreover, gray water often contains harmful chemicals such as those found in non-biodegradable soaps. These can contaminate water sources, damaging wildlife and even harming pets.

Additionally, when gray water isn’t disposed of properly, it could seep into aquifers, contaminating rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs used for drinking water. This is why it’s always good to use biodegradable soaps when you go camping (since leaks and spills of gray water can happen from time to time).

What If It’s On Private Property?

Even on private property, the disposal of gray water requires adherence to local laws. Generally, you can’t dump gray water on private property. To some this might seem restrictive, but these laws exist to protect our environment from potential harm.

If you want to be absolutely sure, it’s a good idea to verify this with local authorities. They’ll be able to share specific guidelines and inform you if any exceptions apply to your situation.

If you are allowed to dump on your private property, it’s still recommended to do it responsibly. Look into safer disposal methods or treatment solutions that can minimize the environmental impact and help protect the area.

What About On BLM Land?

BLM land where you might be able to dump gray water

It’s important to note that the Bureau of Land Management is a unique federal agency in that it allows the dumping of gray water on the ground. BLM is the steward of the most public land in the U.S, and boondocking is allowed on the vast majority of it. And as you probably know, boondocking requires you to be aware of how much gray water you’ve accumulated (among other things).

However, the gray water policy on BLM land isn’t as simple as it seems. While this agency might permit gray water dumping in certain areas, state laws still take priority. This means that even if you’re on BLM land, the state in which you’re camping might have its own regulations regarding gray water disposal. If the state has stricter laws, you’re obligated to follow them.

Despite BLM’s more relaxed approach, many campers still opt to use designated dump sites for their gray water disposal. This precautionary measure can prevent potential legal complications and help maintain the natural integrity of the camping area. It’s part of the “leave no trace” approach, and is something that we personally do as well.

Penalties & Fines Given For Illegally Dumping Gray Water

Let’s go over the consequences that can arise from illegally dumping gray water. The penalties for doing this can vary significantly from state to state, but fines can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands.

On top of the fines, if you’re caught illegally dumping gray water, you may also be held responsible for the cleanup and restoration of the affected area. Depending on the severity of the situation, this could end up being worse than the initial fine.

Why RVers Should Avoid Doing This Anyway

Regardless of what the laws are in your area, there are some reasons why we RVers should steer clear of dumping gray water on the ground.

Firstly, it’s simply a matter of ethical camping. The “leave no trace” principle is something that campers should do their best to uphold. It’s a commitment to preserving natural spaces and wildlife by ensuring we don’t leave any sign of our presence behind, and that includes gray water.

There’s also the role that gray water dumping can have on preserving long-term access to camping and RV spots. We’ve seen how irresponsible dumping and disrespecting property has led to the closure of campsites in recent years. This affects the entire camping community and limits everyone’s access to these beautiful areas.

Lastly, your actions can impact the camping experience for others in the short term as well. Dumping gray water can result in unpleasant odors and even unsanitary conditions for the next person at your site.

How To Easily Find Places To Dump Your Gray Water

Since you most likely can’t dump gray water on the ground, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the process of doing it properly. One of the reasons why campers consider doing this in the first place is convenience, but dumping at a traditional site can be easy too!

Campgrounds and RV parks are great places to do this. State and National Parks sometimes have designated stations for this purpose as well.

Truck stops, rest stops, and gas stations sometimes have dump sites as well, but it’s important to check ahead to be sure. You might even be able to dump your tanks at RV dealerships! Outdoor stores like Cabela’s might also have facilities for this as well.

And finding these spots doesn’t have to be a hassle. There are plenty of apps and websites out there that make it easy to find a spot to dump your gray water. Personally, we use Campendium and Harvest Hosts (they added a dump station filter fairly recently).

Screenshot of a dump station search in the Campendium app

Other Ways To Dump Your Gray Water

There are also other ways to get rid of your gray water, including options that can be done right at home. If you’re connected to a public sewer system, you can directly link your home to the sewer cleanout line.. Most homes even have an access pipe above ground along the sewage line, making the connection process straightforward.

For those with private septic systems, you might be able to hook your RV up directly to it. Since septic tanks are designed to be accessible for maintenance, it’s worth checking.

There’s also the less-glamorous method of dumping by using a bucket. Simply put, this involves you emptying your gray water into a bucket (ideally with a lid) and flushing it down your toilet. It can be a bit time consuming and require a few trips back and forth, but it’s straightforward and effective.

How To Limit The Amount Of Gray Water You Create

Campers consider dumping gray water on the ground because of convenience and necessity. But you can attack this problem from another direction by simply reducing the amount of gray water you accumulate. This means you can spend less time worrying about dumping, and more time camping.

1. Watch Your Water Usage When Washing Dishes

Washing dishes can create a significant amount of gray water, but there are some tweaks you can make to manage this.

We’ve found that using a dishpan or basin makes a big difference. Instead of letting the faucet run continuously, we fill the basin with water and wash our dishes in it. This conserves water, while also decreasing the volume of gray water we produce.

If you’re used to leaving the water running at home while you scrub and rinse your dishes, this might feel odd at first. But you’ll be amazed at the impact it can have.

2. Don’t Take Long Showers

As you’d expect, taking shorter showers can also reduce the amount of gray water you generate. Showers account for a significant portion of water usage in homes as well as RVs, so this isn’t something to ignore.

But taking shorter showers isn’t the only solution. You can further limit gray water production by installing low-flow showerheads.

If you want to do all-out, turning off the water while you lather up will make a significant impact. It’s not the most pleasant showering experience, but it’s useful if you’re seriously trying to limit how much gray water you produce.

3. Use Paper Plates

Another effective way to limit our creation of gray water is through the use of paper plates. This may seem like a small change, but it significantly reduces the amount of water you’ll need to use for dishwashing.

Now, you might argue that using paper plates isn’t environmentally friendly. That’s a valid concern. However, there are compostable paper plates which are made from renewable resources and decompose naturally over time.

Closing Thoughts

For the most part, you can’t dump gray water on the ground (even if it’s on private property). But once you get more comfortable finding dump sites and reducing water usage, you won’t be tempted to resort to this!

We hope you found this guide helpful for future camping trips. If you have any questions, you can always reach out to us on social media.

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