Is It Legal To Dump RV Grey Water on the Ground?

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Is It Legal To Dump RV Grey Water on the Ground?

Boondocking. Going off-grid. Getting back to nature. Whatever you want to call it, this type of camping connects us directly to the great outdoors.

Whether it’s the desert lands of Arizona or the high mountains of Colorado, the beauty of nature calls us.

But once our RV grey tank fills up, is it okay to dump on the ground?

To many, the answer isn’t obvious.

What is RV grey water?

Most RVs capture grey water and black water in holding tanks that have to be emptied when full. Black water is everything that goes down the toilet…your sewage. Everything else is captured in the grey water tank. 

Water from your shower, bathroom sink, kitchen sink, or other sources not going down the toilet, go into the grey tank and is thus considered grey water.

Can you Legally dump grey water anywhere?

The answer to this question 99.9% of the time is no.

The Boondocker’s Bible has done thorough research on the legality of dumping your grey water tank, particularly on public lands.

The U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Army Corps of Engineers all have regulations making it illegal to dump grey water on the Federal lands that they maintain.

The lone exception is the Bureau of Land Management, but there are a couple of caveats.

It is in some cases legal to dump your grey water (NOT black water) in the open, public BLM spaces used for dispersed camping, according to some BLM regulations.

Always verify legality at each individual location.

But, the BLM also manages developed campgrounds, recreational areas, and wildlife preserves. In these BLM locations, many prohibit the dumping of grey water.

State public lands are another popular source of boondocking and camping but fall under a wide variety of laws specific to each individual state. They frequently ban the practice of dumping wastewater.

It should be noted, however, that even if you are at a dispersed site managed by the BLM, dumping your grey water could violate state and/or local laws for which you could still be cited.

Why is Dumping Grey Water Harmful?

Even where dumping grey water is technically allowed, it isn’t considered by most boondockers to be good practice. It is harmful in many ways.

Most RVs hold 20+ gallons of wastewater. Dumping a large amount of RV grey water can cause erosion, which diminishes the places that we want to go. It also smells bad, further destroying the beautiful locations that we often go to great lengths to seek out.

The wastewater from the kitchen sink can also be particularly harmful to local wildlife.

When grey water contains food scraps, it can tempt animals to eat or drink it, which can be detrimental to their health. If you dump grey water while still in the area, it might also attract animals that you don’t want milling around your site, creating another type of danger to you and your family.

Your dishwater might also contain grease or harmful chemicals from soap and other cleaners. This again can be harmful to local wildlife, but also to plants, trees, and water sources in the area.

Pro Tip: Extend you tank capacity with a portable RV waste tank.

Find a dump station and keep nature preserved

There are many detrimental side effects caused by dumping grey water. And at the end of the day, it can easily be avoided.

It’s not all that difficult to find a dump station where you can safely empty your black and grey tanks.

Even if you’re not staying at an RV park, most parks have a dump station that you can use for a small fee. There are also many rest areas, truck stops, and gas stations that have dump stations available for a fee or sometimes even for free.

Another option is local sewage treatment facilities, which sometimes have RV dump stations available. Even county fairgrounds and parks in some smaller towns or rural areas often have dump stations.

Most of us go boondocking to get off-grid and enjoy nature, not destroy it. So why not simply pack out what you packed in?

Find a dump station and help preserve these fantastic spaces that we so enjoy.

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  1. I understand about gray water and agree with the article. Here’s my question….is it okay to shower outside with an all-natural castille soap like Dr. Bronners and allow the water to run out on the ground? We do dishes with Dr. Bronners the same way.

      1. The BLM Ranger at an AZ LTVA told us “if the shower water doesn’t hit the grey water tank it’s not considered grey water”. We of course shower outside usually standing on a wooden pallet with a plywood top.

  2. As with any gray water system whether it be in a Home or a RV the main problem happens in the tank when it’s allowed to sit and go anaerobic for a period of time.
    if you wash your dishes with a natural soap in a pan out in the wilderness and then toss it on the ground it hasn’t started to digest yet and will actually make the plants happy

  3. In the country, people’s houses the black water goes to septic tank. However their gray water just goes to the ground.

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