Dumping your gray water, or emptying your gray tank, is generally only permitted on BLM managed lands, but may still be illegal by state law. Despite that, it’s very common for boondockers to dump their gray water on the ground on BLM lands.
Can I Dump my Gray Water on the Ground?
Of the six federal agencies that manage recreation lands, only the BLM does not prohibit dumping of gray water on the ground. Technically, they use the term “wash water” when describing what kinds of waste is excepted from dumping. Below are subsections for each of the land management agencies and their regulations…
Bureau of Land Management
The BLM is the only federal land management agency that does not specifically prohibit dumping gray water on the ground. This is based on a BLM rule codified under CFR Title 43, § 8365.1-1 Sanitation, which states…
“On all public lands, no person shall, unless otherwise authorized:
(3) 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 (i.e. hands, dishes, showering, clothes, brushing teeth, etc.), which meets the definition of gray water, or water from a gray tank. Generally, as long as your gray tank contains water that was used for washing, it’s legal to dump it on the ground.
Note: Some boondockers have stated that this only applies to gray water from a shower or sink that was captured in a tub or bucket, but water that was allowed to drain into the gray tank is not. However, the actual Code of Federal Regulation (above) does not make this distinction.
Also note: The above rule applies only to “public lands” which is a term the BLM uses to describe all lands they manage except for developed areas (campgrounds, visitor centers, OHV areas, et al.)
U.S. Forest Service
The U.S. Forest Service has rules codifed under CFR Title 36, § 261.11 Sanitation which states…
The following are prohibited:
(b) Possessing or leaving refuse, debris, or litter in an exposed or unsanitary condition.
(c) Placing in or near a stream, lake, or other water any substance which does or may pollute a stream, lake, or other water.
(d) Failing to dispose of all garbage, including any paper, can, bottle, sewage, waste water or material, or rubbish either by removal from the site or area, or by depositing it into receptacles or at places provided for such purposes.
The last rule (d) is what specifically prohibits dumping of gray water on the ground. We have, however, heard from boondockers that claim they were given permission by forest rangers to dump their gray water on the ground. Because laws and rules are only as effective as the officials who enforce them, the matter is a case-by-case basis.
National Park Service
The National Park Service has rules codified under CFR Title 36, § 2.14 Sanitation and refuse, which states…
(a) The following are prohibited:
(1) Disposing of refuse in other than refuse receptacles.
(4) Draining refuse from a trailer or other vehicle, except in facilities provided for such purpose.
(6) Polluting or contaminating park area waters or water courses.
(8) In developed areas, the disposal of human body waste, except at designated locations or in fixtures provided for that purpose.
(9) In nondeveloped areas, the disposal of human body waste within 100 feet of a water source, high water mark of a body of water, or a campsite, or within sight of a trail, except as otherwise designated.
The National Park Service specifically defines “refuse” as…
Refuse means trash, garbage, rubbish, waste papers, bottles or cans, debris, litter, oil, solvents, liquid waste, or other discarded materials.
Bureau of Reclamation
The Bureau of Reclamation has rules codified under CFR Title 43, § 423.34 Sanitation, which states…
(a) You must not bring or improperly dispose of refuse on Reclamation facilities, lands, and waterbodies. Both the owner and the person bringing or disposing refuse may be issued a citation for violating this provision.
The Bureau defines, “refuse” as…
Refuse means any human or pet waste, litter, trash, garbage, rubbish, debris, contaminant, pollutant, waste liquid, or other discarded materials.
Because the Bureau of Reclamation is focused on bodies of water (lakes and rivers), it’s understandable that dumping waste water of any kind on the ground is not permitted.
Army Corps of Engineers
The Army Corps of Engineers has rules codified under CFR Title 36, § 327.9 Sanitation which states…
(a) Garbage, trash, rubbish, litter, gray water, or any other waste material or waste liquid generated on the project and incidental to authorized recreational activities shall be either removed from the project or deposited in receptacles provided for that purpose. The improper disposal of such wastes, human and animal waste included, on the project is prohibited.
(c) The spilling, pumping, discharge or disposal of contaminants, pollutants or other wastes, including, but not limited to, human or animal waste, petroleum, industrial and commercial products and by-products, on project lands or into project waters is prohibited.
Because the Army Corps of Engineers is largely focused on constructions projects around water ways, it’s understandable why dumping gray water on the ground is not allowed.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The USFWS administers all National Wildlife Refuges in the United States. They have rules codified under CFR Title 50, § 27.94 Disposal of waste, which states…
(a) The littering, disposing, or dumping in any manner of garbage, refuse sewage, sludge, earth, rocks, or other debris on any national wildlife refuge except at points or locations designated by the refuge manager, or the draining or dumping of oil, acids, pesticide wastes, poisons, or any other types of chemical wastes in, or otherwise polluting any waters, water holes, streams or other areas within any national wildlife refuge is prohibited.
While the above rule does not actually describe waste water or wash water, they do use the term “refuse sewage” which many would argue includes gray water. It also uses the term “chemical wastes” which could include soaps, detergents, or other cleaning agents you may wash into your gray tank.
All States Make it Illegal to Dump Raw Sewage Without a Permit
Every state has laws against dumping raw sewage on the ground without a permit. Note that it is not illegal to dump raw sewage on the ground in general; it’s only illegal to do so without a permit. As long as you have a permit, states don’t consider the dumping of raw sewage on to the ground as threatening underground aquifers. It’s only a threat if dumped directly into bodies of water (lakes, rivers).
As of right now, the only way the general public is allowed to get such a permit is through a septic tank permit. All septic tanks are designed to hold solid wastes in the bottom of the tank while allowing excess fluid to drain into the ground. There is no way to get a permit for individual RV use.
Most Federal Land Management Agencies Apply State Laws
Five of six federal agencies that manage recreation lands mentioned above (except for the National Park Service) allows state and local laws to apply to their lands.
The National Park Service is the only federal land management agency that invokes the “Property Clause” of the U.S. Constitution, declaring itself to be exempt from state and local laws. Read, “Do State and Local Laws Apply to Federally Managed Lands?“
Keywords: gray water dumping, grey water dumping, rules for dumping gray water, rules for dumping grey water