Dumping your gray water, or emptying your gray tank, is generally only permitted on BLM lands open for dispersed camping.
Everywhere else, it’s illegal.
Note: the following research was conducted from United States Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) as of March 2019…
Bureau of Land Management
It’s 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. However, in areas where the BLM manages developed campgrounds, recreational areas, or wildlife preserves, they may prohibit such activity on a case-by-case basis.
The BLM has adopted regulations with respect to this issue…
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.
U.S. Forestry Service
Officially, it’s illegal to dump gray water on the ground. Many boondockers, however, have reported that 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.
The US Forestry Service has adopted the following regulations with respect to this issue…
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.
National Park Service
It’s illegal to dump gray water, or drain gray tanks, on the ground.
The National Park Service has adopted the following regulations with respect to this issue…
(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
Generally, it is illegal to dump gray water on the ground.
The Bureau of Reclamation has adopted the following regulations with respect to this issue…
(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
Dumping of gray water and draining of gray tanks on the ground is illegal.
The Army Corps of Engineers has adopted the following regulations with respect to this issue…
(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.
State Public Lands (Parks, Forests, Beaches, etc.)
State laws and regulations vary from state to state, and vary from one park, forest, or beach to the next.
- Even if you are camped on BLM or USFS land, your waste water may flow or drain into underground aquifers leading to sources of drinking water (lakes, rivers, steams, reservoirs). Most states have laws and regulations under the scope of public safety or environmental quality that make it a crime to pollute these sources. Hence, even if it’s perfectly legal to dump gray water on BLM land, state officials may still cite (and arrest) you for violating state laws.
- Many local water districts own land located well away from homes, businesses, and often times these properties border BLM and USFS lands. In Southern California, for example, the Metropolitan Water District owns millions of acres of land, many of which is located next to BLM and USFS areas. Be careful when dumping gray water that water district employees are not nearby, or else may bring charges against you for polluting their water sources.
- Many states are now permitting the use of gray water to irrigate lawns and gardens, but it’s only permitted when gray water is used primarily for this purpose, and not as a secondary benefit from dumping RV tanks.
- Department of Parks & Recreation…
IDAHO ADMINISTRATIVE CODE, IDAPA 26.01.20…
06. Liquid Waste Disposal. All gray water and sewage wastes shall be held in self-contained units or collected in water-tight receptacles in compliance with state adopted standards and dumped in sanitary facilities provided for the disposal of such wastes.
- Department of Fish and Game…
IDAHO ADMINISTRATIVE CODE IDAPA 13.01.03…
100. PUBLIC USE RESTRICTIONS.
01. Activities Prohibited Without Director Authorization. Unless specifically authorized by the Commission or under lease, permit, contract, or agreement issued by the Director, Regional Supervisor, or other authorized agent, the following activities are PROHIBITED:
l. To discard dead fish, birds, animals, or parts or remains thereof, waste water, metallic cans, bottles, plastic or paper cartons, shotgun shell casings, yard and agricultural wastes, garbage, machines, appliances, or other litter on or in any lands or waters.
- Department of Lands (State Endowment Lands)…
The Department has not yet adopted general regulations with respect to the dumping of waste water, including black water. However, the Department has carved out 10 different “supervisory areas” of the State for the purpose of managing endowment lands, and each area is authorized to establish its own policies with respect to waste water, gray water, black water, sewage, and refuse.