Grey Water Disposal
Water, Water Everywhere
Water which has been used for something, like washing or cooking, is generally called "grey water" (yes, that includes your soapy, barely-used dishwater). Since we all bring lots of water to the playa, we all have lots of grey water to deal with. While it's tempting to just dump grey water onto the ground, there are a number of reasons why this is not acceptable. Amongst other reasons: if everyone did it, we'd be swimming in playa mud by Tuesday; water contaminated with germs and debris could wreck the Playa's ecosystem; and finally, our BLM permit forbids it.
Therefore all that grey water must be collected. You can Leave No Trace by packing it out (by yourself or using Johnny on the Spot), or you can try to evaporate it. The most common approach to evaporating grey water is to use an evaporation pond (described below). Some camps have even developed technologies to reuse their water. The appropriate methodology for you depends on the size of your camp, your background and experience, and the level of energy you want to spend dealing with grey water.
And of course, reducing the amount of dirty water that you produce will make it easier to manage!
Tips & Hints
Astral Headwash CampEvaporation Ponds
The following design is from Astral Headwash, a theme camp that has won the coveted "Earth Guardian Camp of the Day" award for several years. This pond will dispose of up to 15 gallons per day (GPD), and is easily expandable for some camps.
Materials for a 15 GPD Pond
You will need:
- four 2x4's 8 feet long,
- black plastic sheet, 6 mil thickness, 10 ft by 10 ft,
- 3" screws
- a screw gun (cordless drill), or
- nails and a hammer,
- a staple gun,
- a pump and a grey water container
- and gloves.
Materials are available from most large hardware stores (Home Depot, Lowes, Hugh M Woods, etc). The black plastic sheet comes in 10 × 100-ft rolls, is stored in the Paint section, and costs about $25 or $30. (It's a 10-year supply, but hey, you're coming back.) It must be black, and the 6 mil (or more) thickness protects against punctures. The pump is for removing any leftover unevaporated grey water to take home.
Construction & Operation
Pick a spot in your camp that's secluded but sunny. Lay the 2×4's on edge to form a square frame, and screw or nail the corners together. Lay a 10×10 ft piece of 6mil black plastic over the 2×4 frame loosely, so it lies on the ground. Staple it to the outside faces of the frame, and tuck the edges under. The plastic is probably already too hot to touch — that's why you need gloves. Now you're ready to dispose of your filtered grey water by simply pouring it in, by funneling shower runoff to it, or by running PVC pipe from your kitchen to the evaporation pond. To prevent punctures, anchor the pipe end to a 2×4 — a pipe end resting on the pond floor will tear it. To increase capacity, use more 2×4's to build a larger-area pond. Remember to keep the water shallow. If the water gets to deep, pump water out for holding until the water level is less than one inch. Then slowly start evaporating again and check it every couple of hours. Figure about one quart evaporation per square foot per day.
Evaporation Pond Improvements
Since ponds do not work once the water level is too deep, many camps have experimented with using absorbant material (e.g., pieces of fabric dipping into the pond) to wick moisture out and so increase evaporation. Other camps have tried using fountains to increase evaporation. Lastly, in the spirit of reuse, other camps have watered house plants with extra grey water. If you try out something along this line, please pass your results on to the Earth Guardians.
Final Disposal and Clean-up
Save and re-use the 2×4's. A 15-gallon pond uses about $3 of plastic sheet, which is pretty scuzzy by the end of the week, so you'll want to pack it out as trash. Some camps report being able to roll it up and drive away without letting any of grey water hit the playa. Be sure to handle the sheets carefully so that no dried up soap or other showering residue on the plastic hits the playa or you! The Astral Headwash folks, with two 10-by-40 ponds, unload theirs at the Fernley landfill (about 7 minutes from the Fernley I-80 exit, which charges only $4.00 or so per cubic yard).
Shower Potential Problems
Your pond needs protection from leaks, from dust, and from renegade slip-and-slide buckaroos. A leak could dump grey water onto the playa. Duct tape, applied to dry clean plastic, may handle a tiny leak. A heavy object resting on a scrap of plastic sheet, resting on a leak, makes a temporary stopgap. Dust WILL BLOW into your pond. Enough dust, and the sun won't reach the black plastic and the water will not evaporate. Windbreaks haven't proven to keep dust out. Once the pond stops working, you'll need to pump out the water and clean or reline the pond. If you come up with a good technique to keep dust out, please let us know at Earth Guardians camp. Astral Headwash's ponds were situated on their street frontage. It took fencing and shouted warnings to ward off slip-and-sliders, whose running jumps would have torn up the ponds. Be forewarned, and if possible choose a secluded site. You'll want to avoid aromatic soaps and shampoos. The fragrances will linger, getting less fresh and less appealing with each new day. Dr. Bronner's is recommended.
Dump Station Tips
Remember these tips from www.rvdumps.com 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
(also 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 tips mentioned above.
For More Information:
Frequently Asked Questions
What about scattering my grey water? What might be okay for a small (less than 5 people) group doesn't work in a large city. For reasons of sanitation, and sheer volume, both Black Rock City and the BLM discourage scattering. However, if you're in a very small camp, with minimal dish and body washing water, you might choose to pour your grey water through a filter or sieve (better, a paint sieve or even pantyhose), disinfect the water, then, since it is treated, disperse it on your street to keep down dust. A watering can works nicely for sprinkling. Please be aware that just physically filtering dirty water does not remove bacteria or chemicals. Do not use water like this for misting or spraying on people.
What's Simple? Pack it out: small and mid-sized camps can collect your grey water and take it to several RV dump stations along highway 80 and in Reno after the event. A few are listed below. Please check with the dumping station before the event for disposal charges and determine if they can handle the amount of water you are planning to dump! Larger camps should consider setting up a contract with Johnny on the Spot (out of Reno, Nevada) to collect grey water. With 30 days notice, they will provide a collection tank for you at the event that they will collect at the end of the event for disposal.
Whose this Johnny on the Spot guy? The Reno, Nevada Johnny on the Spot provides our porta-pottie service on the playa. It is possible for you to make arrangements with them before the event to service your RV, or to collect your grey water, although this is not terribly practical unless your camp has tens of gallons of grey water to deal with. With 30 days notice, they will provide a collection tank for you at the event that they will collect at the end of the event for disposal.
How can I reduce my grey water? First — remember Conservation, Conservation, Conservation! 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. You'll need remarkably little water to wash up with. Assign a water cop in your camp to remind campmates that you're in the desert, not at home. Use a biodegradable detergent instead of soap. Camp Suds, available at REI, works well for dishes, hands, and showers. Rub your hands with a few drops of a waterless disinfectant lotion, available at drugstores, before you handle food. This saves water and is also good camp hygiene. Evaporation ponds are a technique that has been shown to reduce the volume of grey water. It is, however, important to construct a pond that is big enough for your camp. Too big — it will still work great. Too small — it stops working when the water gets too deep! Also limit showers the last few days of the event before you'll need to pack up the evaporative pond for disposal.
What are the reuse options? While some camps supported by environmental engineering students have developed elaborate systems to treat the grey water for reuse, most camps do not have the expertise to treat grey water to be clean enough for misting and drinking.
- BRC MUD Grey Water Treatment Web site: http://www.freshmakkur.org
- RV servicing is available on the playa, and there are several locations in the local towns surrounding Black Rock City to properly dispose of grey water. Look to the Survival Guide for a complete listing of resources here.
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