Oct 132010

RVers don’t usually spend a lot of time arguing about politics, religion, or gun control, but certain topics are always sure to get a good campfire debate going, and one of them is whether it is acceptable to dump gray water on the ground.

Some folks are convinced that dumping your gray tank is just as bad as emptying your black tank anywhere except into an RV dump station. They say you are ruining the groundwater table by polluting in this way. Others don’t see the harm in it.

I remember once we were at a campground in Oklahoma, where it was very hot and very dry. The owner of the RV park asked guests to use a garden hose to dump their gray tanks into the trees at every site. A gentleman parked near us was greatly upset, and very vocal in telling the campground’s owner just how terrible that practice was.

The owner listed patiently while the RVer told him all of the nasty things that were destroying the planet by dumping gray water, then when the fellow ran down, he said “Look over there across that fence. Do you see those cows. Do you see what that one’s doing? I wonder what that’s doing to the environment?”

I fall into the group that really does not see a problem with it. If I am dry camping in a friend or relative’s driveway with limited hookups, with their permission I will water their rose bushes as I run my gray water out. If that offends you, I’m sorry. But like that campground owner in Oklahoma, I have spent enough time in ranching country that I just don’t see the harm.

Bob Difley recently addressed the issue of dumping gray water on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land on the RV Boondocking News website. It was interesting to see the BLM’s response to Bob’s inquiries on this.

It’s been my experience that RVers from populated areas like the east coast and California object to this practice much more so than those who are from the Midwest or the west. I wonder if that’s because those in the first category are not as familiar with dry camping. Or is it just that the west is hotter, drier, less populated, and more in need of moisture any way it can get it?

How do you feel about this issue? I’d be interesting in hearing your viewpoints.

Thought For The Day – Just remember, if the world didn’t suck, we’d all fall off.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  18 Responses to “To Dump Or Not To Dump”

  1. It’s illegal in some cities in Arizona. We used to water the lawn with the rinse water from the washing machine but were reported and the police said we weren’t allowed to do so. We also had to pay a fine for this “offense to the environment”. What happens with the groundwater table around the cattle lots or the hog confinement areas? Surely it is far worse than any gray water from an RV.

  2. Nick, I think the grey water issue has changed over the years just like so many issues. When I was young and we camped up in Western Montana we dumped grey water on the bushes. But we were almost the only ones who ever camped there. Now with the population as it is, there is someone camping almost everywhere almost always and the impact of this increased useage has increased – to a level that at some of our old campsites the bushes stunk. It had to change just as the world changed.
    BTW, looking forward to our next chance to attend a rally, maybe this winter again. Leland.

  3. I use a biodegradable soap in my sinks and I think it helps to break down small particles in my gray water. Out here in the west, the ground appreciates it very much but I always try to adhere to policy where I am parked. It ain’t toxic! I treat it like they did in the old wagon train days: let ‘er flow.

  4. There are times that we’ve felt it probably would not harm to dump gray water, but because it may be a harm and because others think it could be, we don’t dump. There are enough people who look down on RV life style or don’t understand it, so we try to be very careful not to give RVers a bad name.
    Joyce Space

  5. I realize common sense plays a huge roll in every action one takes. I also realize its becoming in short supply as people give up their right to make decisions concerning their everyday lives…let the people in charge decide for me is becoming the normal.
    As for me … until you put that last shovel of dirt over me…I will decide what…where…and how I function. That includes dumping my waste water. Thank God I still have some of that common sense to know where…when…and how to do it. Whats next for those in charge to mandate as being good for me/us? Get out of my home on wheels!! Off my campsite! And stop running my life as you think it ought to be run!!
    Approach me as an equal, with respect and a hand extended in friendship. Think that would work inside the beltway?

  6. I suppose there’s no real long-range danger, but for practicality, I’d rather run it down my sewer house to clean it out after dumping the black!

  7. When parked in my son’s driveway in Illinois, and my brother’s driveway in Indiana I always run the grey water on the ground. Some of those garden shows suggest using soap in a mixture to help feed your plants.

  8. Some of us with older rigs do not have to participate in the debate – I have only one tank that must go to the dump station. My gray just helps the black to move out faster because the tank fills faster.

  9. To dump or not to dump; not a difficult question. Nancy and I choose to be conservative on this debate by choosing not to offend or even give the appearance of offense wherever we are. We are currently sitting at the curb across from our son’s home in Lansing, KS. I’ve positioned our tank valves over a sewer grate and dump our grey water every few days while sitting here. Our son has spoken to the near-by neighbors so that they won’t be offended. I’d certainly never dump on the Walmart parking lot: others might not understand. Again, there’s always the potential of and “RV” error. Back in our “olden times” of RVing, we were boondocking in the parking of our son’s college campus out side of Chicago in the chilly month of December. It was COLD and there was the residual of ice and snow everywhere. I had managed to position the rear of our old motor home directly over the sewer grating. Being fatigued and did I mention COLD, my judgement was impaired (I know, no excuse, sir) a bit and in the dark of the night I pulled, you guessed it. . . the black tank valve instead of the grey. Twenty gallons of blue water (our’s isn’t black or stinky like everyone elses. . . ya sure, you bet) poured out onto the lot, much of it going into the sewer, but not enough. One big OOps. Between using our grey water and ruining our broom, I got the situation under control. However, this is one example why the draining of our RV tanks outside of proper dump stations is viewed as improper. I still carefully dump my grey water. . . but as above. . . with caution. As always, oRV

  10. We dribble our gray water when at my sister’s the greenest area of the grass is where we water it. We have been in parks in some states that ask you to use your gray water to water their trees. We know that AZ BLM land it is illegal to do it and we respect it, we are not sure why they do it since they have such a small amount of rain each year. I am sure like everything else someone will abuse the right to do it.

  11. Most people do not have, nor understand how a septic system works. If they did, they would not have a problem with dumping gray water on the ground. Almost all RV parks out in the boonies use a septic system, so when you dump both gray and black water, that mix of water goes thru the leach field and into the ground. Think of that mixture! So when boondocking, the gray water being dumped is so much more “ground friendly” than the discharge at the RV park with a septic system. People form judgements based on face value and really need to understand the complete picture.

  12. Dumping gray water on the ground where it has a chance to percolate into the soil and get cleansed is not a bad thing so long as the same location is not over used thereby taxing the soil’s ability to do it’s purification job. On the other hand, dumping gray water directly into a storm sewer as someone has suggested is a bad thing as the gray water will flow directly into a nearby waterway before the effluent has had a chance to be treated by the bacteria in the soil. I would strongly recommend that gray water not be discharged into a storm sewer under any circumstances.

  13. Nick:
    Reading all the comments regarding gray water dumping, no one has mentioned the fact that at least in CA, and I believe that the National Plumbing Code has been changed to allow plumbing to be designed to let gray water to drain on ground surface when desired. Local building departments can over ride the code and prohibit it.

  14. I think the reason for the no gray water dumping rule is the same reason for most rules. If the speed limit is 65 people do 75. If no littering law they toss garbage on the ground. If you’re suppose to be quiet in a theater they talk their heads off. Silence a cell phone in a meeting? You get the idea here. Truth is, people will bend and break most common sense rules. They can’t handle the gray water rule and I’m sure there are many accidents. Some of which may be accidents for their benefit. So, the authorities just ban all dumping except at dump stations. One last thing. I was behind a guy at a dump station in a rest area who dumped all over the ground 5 feet from the drain. His hose was only 3 feet long and didn’t reach. Guess what, now that state has closed all the RV dumps in their rest areas. Do you think there were many more like this guy with the short hose? We should all use care and not give the RV lifestyle a black eye!

  15. Here in Arkansas we dump gray water at our COE parks. They just ask that you use a hose to get it away from the pad area as to not make a muddy mess. I see no problem with the dumping and do all the time it can be carried off out of used areas of the CG

  16. I grew up in the country and we did not have indoor plumbing till I was 7 or 8. (If you’re curious how long ago that was, I’m now 65.) We washed clothes in an outbuilding and guess where the water went—on the ground. We washed dishes in a dishpan and where do you suppose we threw the used dishwater? I’m even old enough to vividly remember the old “two holer” positioned way away from the house. I managed to grow up healthy & in one piece. Even now, in 2010, guess where the water from my clothes washer goes—yep, on the ground. No one in my family is any worse for these things. Personally, I think the lawmakers who decided that gray water is so very dangerous don’t have a clue what it really is. Don’t get me wrong DH & I adhere to the laws of whatever region we find ourselves in—even when they don’t make a bit of sense sometimes.

  17. I think the concern here is the pathogens (bacteria, viruses, protozoans and multicellular parasites) which can get into the local drinking water.

    Even though gray water is not supposed to have any of these pathogens in it we all know that some urine material gets into shower water on occasion. Also when we run out the gray water we run it through the same hose we used to dump the black water which has fecal (poop) material left in the tube.

    Having said all that, certainly in low density human population areas, the gray water if dumped on the ground is unlikely to get into the local drinking water or local streams. It is unlikely to cause any problems. However, in high human density areas if everyone dumped on the ground ( ex. London with raw sewage running in the streets during past centuries or India) the local drinking water would be in peril.

    When we used to have 2+ acres, I would dump my last black and gray water into a flower bed I had near the coach storage area. The flowers loved me and the flower bed was not any where near where the water might drain into a local canal behind our property. So the water was filtered by the ground by the time any water would get to flowing water. But I certainly do not dump black water on the ground any where in our travels. Nor do we dump gray where we were asked not to. But like several others here, I have actually been in campgrounds and fairgrounds that asked us to trickle the gray water on the ground due to water shortages in the area.

    So it depends on where you are as to what is acceptable to do with gray water and for that matter black water too.

  18. We worked at a campground in texas where they had water from the laundramat piped into the flowers and bushes and the plants loved it.
    We are listed in the overnite with skps and when we have people stop by they are welcome to attach a hose and spread their gray water into out woods. I believe as in most things that done with reasonable moderation there is no problem.
    Ray Faber

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