What do I do with all this Gray Water?
Can I dump it on the playa? NO! But I want to take showers, and wash dishes, and brush my teeth, what do I do?
What is Gray Water?
Our permit from BLM defines gray water as water is water that has been used for cooking, washing, dishwashing, or bathing and contains soap, detergent, food scraps, or food residue. In Black Rock City, water used for these purposes come from each camps unique kitchen and washing set-ups and can include ice-melt, dust, toothpaste, body paints and even glitter.
Why is it a problem?
Almost anywhere else in the world, a camp site is near absorbent soil (filled with microbial activity, and usually with plants) where it is safe and decent to dump graywater. But we are on the Playa, on dried clay, striving to avoid contaminating our surroundings. It’s very different.
What To Do?
There are several acceptable ways to dispose of graywater; pick one that’s right for you.
Contract a Removal Service
Large camps may contract at least a month in advance with United Site Services for removal of graywater in multi-hundred-gallon containers. Contact United Site Services’ Mindy Cook or Mike Kivett at 1-775-826-5646, in Reno. Note that USS does not deliver fresh water. For delivery of fresh water in volume, contact Meco in Reno at 775-475-2602.
Pay to Dispose
During the event, you can take your graywater containers to the United Site Services camp. (Ask directions at PlayaInfo.) They will charge you $1/gallon to accept it.
Pack It Out
You can accumulate your graywater and pack it out when you leave. This works only if you bring your water in single-use plastic bottles. Once you put graywater in them, they can’t be used for anything else. Also, you can’t casually stab an air-hole in them, which would leak graywater during the return trip. You need to have a funnel and bottles which are both re-fillable and disposable, so plan ahead. While you store your graywater, it must be kept chlorinated (explained below). Take it all the way home, or to a dumping station along the way.
Haul to RV Dump Station
Several RV parks and truck stops are listed below. Dumping tanks costs around 5-10 dollars.
Install an evapotron in your camp. Evapotrons (www.evapotrons.info) are Burner-built devices for evaporating graywater in the playa’s intensely dry air. The Pumped Cascade design is powered by sunlight on a solar cell; the Gray-B-Gon is powered by a small windmill. Either design can meet the disposal needs of ten or more people. (insert photos of Gray-B-Gon and Pumped Cascade.)
Share an Evapotron
Camps with evapotrons usually have excess capacity, and often will help neighbors dispose of graywater.
Be a Sanitation Expert
Occasionally, Burners come along that are experts in water sanitation. They, in past years, have brought and used professional-level water-purification systems. Yesterday’s shower becomes today’s fresh coffee! If you are an expert, you know it. But beware trying out an advanced technology if you’re not an experienced professional. More than one camp has discovered that (for example) their flocculation tank pH was way off, so they had no graywater disposal at all.
What NOT To Do – Don’t Do This!
Don’t dump it! Dumping large amounts of untreated water on the playa introduces contaminants and can turn the clay into instant slippery, sticky mud. This can make walking nasty for your neighbors and violates Burning Man’s contract with the Bureau of Land Management. You could get a citation and a fine.
Don’t put it in the Potty! Each potty serves 40 to 50 people, and can handle only pee, poop, and special toilet paper – absolutely nothing else. Toilets are for black water, not graywater.
DO NOT USE Evaporation Ponds Evaporation ponds – black plastic sheeting laid on the playa, over a rim of two-by-fours on edge – were the earliest evaporative devices invented for the Playa, but we no longer recommend them.
Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs
A word of caution about graywater: It is inherently unsanitary. It may contain bacteria, fungi, viruses, or other life. Graywater left to stand untreated in the desert warmth very quickly becomes blackwater as microbial populations increase. To disinfect graywater, and avoid funky aromas, mix in Clorox Regular Bleach or other chlorine-based bleach periodically. For some antibiotic-resistant pathogens, chlorine bleach is the only reliable killer.
The active ingredient in chlorine bleach is sodium hypochlorite. It’s a powerful disinfectant that decomposes into water and salt. Age, sunlight, warmth, and graywater impurities (including playa dust) all increase the rate of decomposition, soon exhausting the disinfecting power. Make sure your bleach is newly purchased, not left over from last year. The following rule of thumb will help compensate for other uncertainties.
The No-measure Rule of Thumb for Disinfecting: Follow Your Nose
Loosen the cap of your bleach jug one-half turn: no farther, or it may come off. Using your thumb to restrain the cap, tip the jug over your graywater and dribble for about two seconds per gallon. Mix it all in, and half an hour later, sniff. If it doesn’t have a strong chlorine tang (like a public swimming pool) dribble in more bleach and check it again later. Make this a morning and evening habit. When buying chlorine bleach, check the label for the concentration of sodium hypochlorite. Clorox Regular Bleach has about 6%. If another brand has 3%, it should cost half as much and you’ll need to add twice as much. Scented products are always lower in hypochlorite. Bleach has a limited shelf life, and this year’s leftover jug won’t last until next year.
Disclaimer: We are not sanitation experts, but we have corresponded with an expert at Clorox Corp. Following the guidelines above is not guaranteed to fully disinfect your water.
Reduce water use
Of course, the easiest graywater to dispose of is the graywater you don’t produce. If you bring less water, you will use less; but bring at least a gallon and a half per day per person, mostly for drinking. Use waterless disinfectant lotion (available at drugstores) to sanitize your hands before you handle food. For soap, go ecofriendly with Campsuds or Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds.
In your kitchen area, set up a low-volume water spray over a basin, for dishwashing and hand cleaning. A personal spray bottle, like the Cool Blast, is a good starting point. Bring several small hand towels (say three per person); use one towel end on clean dishes and the other end to wipe your hands and face clean. You’ll need remarkably little water to wash up with. Wipe out dishes with paper towels rather than washing. Save a dish; eat from the cookpot. Lick out the cookpot, or scrape and rinse it with clean water, then think “This soup is thin but wholesome” and drink it.
It’s possible to wash your body clean in a pint of water, using just soap and a washrag. If you save up your cooler’s ice-melt water, you can add it into your solar shower bag. When you shower, first get wet, turn the water off, soap up and scrub down, then turn the water back on to rinse off. Or shower with a friend, and trade off controlling and directing the water supply.
Why not use evaporation ponds?
Ponds take an enormous amount of space to make a shallow layer of water, they can’t be perfectly level, and they quickly fill with mud. Pond evaporative performance relies on a sunlight-absorbing black surface, and playa dust gradually disables it. Then you have to pump out the pond, and clean or reline it. Your pond may attract slip-and-slide buckaroos, whose antics can tear up the plastic surface. Many other mishaps can cause pin-hole leaks, which eventually make large muddy patches on the Playa. Even if it never leaks, it will probably spill when you try to empty it. At the end of the event, you have a very nasty mess of stuff to take home in your vehicle. And it didn’t even get rid of that much graywater
RV PARKS WITH DUMP STATIONS
Here are some nearby dump stations. An online search will find many more on your travel route.
Baldinis Sports Casino 865 S. Rock Blvd, Reno, NV – 775-358-0116
TA Travel Center I-80 Exit #19 East McCarran Blvd, Sparks, NV – 775-359-0550
Boomtown KOA-RV Park I-80 at Exit 4, Garson Road, Verdi, NV – 775-345-2444
Gold Ranch RV Park I-80 Exit 2 at Gold Ranch, Verdi, NV – 775-345-8880
Loomis RV Park 3945 Taylor Road, Loomis, CA. 916-652-6737
Sacramento 49er Travel Plaza 2828 El Centro Road (off W. El Camino Real), Sacramento, CA – 916-927-4774
Dump Station Tips (from www.rvdumps.com)
Here are some tips to follow when emptying your grey water holding tanks.
Use a heavy-duty sewer hose about 6 to 8 feet long to make handling easier.
Carry an extra garden hose for rinsing in case the dump station doesn’t have one. Store this in an area where it won’t come into contact with your drinking water hose.
Never use your fresh water hose for rinsing sewer hoses or the dump station area.
Wear protective rubber gloves and avoid touching the outside of the gloves.
If others are waiting to use the dump station, skip the tank flushing and hose rinsing steps. Pull away from the dump station and then add some water and chemicals to the holding tanks.
Never put anything other than the contents of your holding tanks into the dump station.
Leave the dump station area cleaner than you found it.
Dump Station Abuse (from www.rvdumps.com)
For years RVers have been pulling into Interstate rest areas and other areas with free dump stations to empty their holding tanks. But because of abuse, many states are removing dump stations from their rest areas and campground owners and others view their dump stations as an expensive maintenance headache due to abuse of the facilities. Dump station abuse amounts to folks leaving a mess or putting things into the dump drain that just don’t belong there.
Remember, somebody has to clean up the mess or clean out the drain. Dump station abuse causes aggravation, creates a health hazard, and costs money. You can do your part to ensure RVers and campers will continue to have free and clean dump stations by following the simple mentioned above.