By Bob Difley
The question nearly always comes up among boondockers on whether it is legal to dump gray water (from the RV shower and sinks) onto the ground, into a freshly dug hole, or onto a thirsty bush while boondocking in the desert.
I contacted the BLM with a request to point out the applicable regulations and to clarify some gray (no pun intended) areas. I received the following reply:
“Dear Mr. Difley, we have received your request and in order to properly answer your questions are consulting with our field offices to determine if there are any areas that have special restrictions/conditions in place. We will respond to your request once we can compile the responses. Thank you for your interest in BLM public lands.
Public Affairs Specialist
Bureau of Land Management”
A couple weeks later I received the following reply. I have hightlighted certain sections that I thought interesting or pertinent in bold type.
“Dear Mr. Difley,
Thank you for your recent questions regarding recreational vehicles (RV) and dispersed camping on BLM lands in Arizona. The answers to your questions are more complicated than originally thought. Although the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) found at 8365.1-1 (3) generally excludes “wash water” from BLM’s prohibition against draining or dumping, it can be specifically prohibited by Supplemental Rules issued for a specific area. This applies equally to RVers and tent campers.
TITLE 43–PUBLIC LANDS: INTERIOR
CHAPTER II–BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, DEPARTMENT OF THE
PART 8360_VISITOR SERVICES
Subpart 8365_Rules of Conduct
Sec. 8365.1-1 Sanitation.
(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;
There are two locations in Arizona where draining wash water is specifically prohibited by Supplemental Rules that have been established and were published in the Federal Register. They are the Long Term Visitor Areas outside of Yuma, Arizona, and Hot Well Dunes Recreation
Area east of Safford, Arizona.
A note of caution to your audience: Under State laws and regulations in Arizona, “wash water” or “gray water” from a kitchen sink or dishwasher is classified as sewage. If discharging it onto the ground from a RV or camper might cause it to enter an aquifer, the visitor could be subject to violation of State of Arizona regulations unrelated to BLM regulations. Even if the gray water is from a clotheswasher, bathroom sink, shower, or bathtub, it can only be discharged if done so according the “General Permit” practices that would apply. The practices are explained at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
In addition, if the gray water creates a hazard or a nuisance a Law Enforcement Officer can cite (or in extreme circumstances arrest) an individual. This would go beyond simple gray water dumping, and the citation would likely be for some other offense related to degradation of resources or public health and safety issues. Law Enforcement Officers in the field have discretion in applying the laws and regulations as necessary and appropriate to protect the natural resources on the ground.
Thank you for your patience, while BLM researched the issue in order to provide accurate answers for your audience,
Public Affairs Specialist
Bureau of Land Management
Arizona State Office
The link above to the ADEQ deals mostly with home use of gray water recycling, and offers the following definition: “Gray water is defined as wastewater, collected separately from sewage, that originates from a clothes washer, bathtub, shower or sink, but not from a kitchen sink, dishwasher or toilet. Gray water is distinguished from ‘black water,’ which is wastewater from toilets, kitchen sinks and dishwashers.”
Of particular note is that a citation could occur in a situation that went “beyond simple gray water dumping, and the citation would likely be for some other offense related to degradation of resources or public health and safety issues.”
That is about as clear as we’re going to get as an interpretation of the rules.
Visit my website for more RVing tips and destinations and check out my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.