Arizona Boondocking Regulations and Gray Water Disposal

Disposing of gray water is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face when boondocking in the wild. If you’re like most RV’ers, you’ll generate far more gray water than black water. Fortunately, there are several ways to limit the amount of gray water you generate and the amount of fresh water you consume. “Navy showers” and the use of paper plates and plastic forks are two of the most effective ways to do this. Another trick is to catch shower water runoff and dish water in small tubs and use this water to flush your toilet. Employing this trick not only conserves fresh water–always an important consideration–but also saves room in your gray water tank.

Regulations for the dumping of your gray water varies by state. Some states allow it, some don’t and some have regulations that lie somewhere in the middle. In Arizona, for example, shower water or “wash” water is legal to dump while kitchen water, which is classified as sewage, is not. But federal organizations can sometimes impose even stricter regulations. For instance, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), now prohibits the dumping of any kind of gray water in the areas they manage. Confusing matters further is the fact that state regulations sometimes takes precedence over federal rules and vice versa. As an example, below are the rules for boondocking or dispersed camping in the Coconino National Forest from the official website (note the state and federal laws cited):

  1. Generally, there is a 14-DAY PER MONTH STAY LIMIT (14 days in a 30-day period – Forest Order #04-99-08-R) on the Coconino National Forest. Please note that there are some exceptions where the limit is less than fourteen days. Establishing residency is against federal regulation.
  2. No camping or campfires on the forest within city limits.
  3. Do not camp on private property unless you have the owner’s permission.
  4. No camping within one-fourth mile of a wildlife watering tank/hole. (Arizona Revised Statutes § 17-308: “It is unlawful for a person to camp within one-fourth mile of a natural water hole containing water or a man-made watering facility containing water in such a place that wildlife or domestic stock will be denied access to the only reasonably available water.”)
  5. Camp at least one mile from a pay (designated) campground or established (developed) recreation area, or as posted.
  6. Please do not camp in or drive through open meadowland due to the scarring effect it causes.
  7. Down and dead firewood may be gathered around your camping area for use at your campsite but it is illegal to load wood in a vehicle to take out of the Forest without a special permit. (You may not cut standing trees nor can you cut limbs off of standing trees.)
  8. Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry.
    • Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
    • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
    • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
    • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
  9. Camp 200 feet from the main roadway, 20 feet from forest road, behind the county or state right-of-way fence.
  10. Always use the pack-in/pack-out method for the disposal of litter to keep your Forest clean.
  11. Please use a digging tool to bury all human and pet waste at least 6 to 7 inches deep.
  12. Pets are welcome in most areas but must be kept leashed at all times.
  13. Always practice “Leave No Trace” Outdoor Ethics.
  14. Please dispose of all garbage, including any paper, can, sewage, waste water or material, or rubbish either by removal the site or area, or by depositing it into receptacles or at places provided for such purposes. Failure to do so can result in a fine. Please see Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart A, 261.11(d), under “Sanitation.” 

Are you confused now more than ever after reading the above? You’re not alone. Rule 11 says you can bury human and pet waste, yet Rule 14 says you must properly dispose of sewage at places provided for such purposes. Personally, I would never dump black water or bury human waste at a campsite, but would have no qualms watering a thirsty bush or tree with gray wash water applying the Leave No Trace ethics listed in the link above. The bottom line is to use common sense and apply the Golden Rule when it comes to boondocking–leave the site in the condition you would expect if you were arriving at that site for the first time.

So where are the prime boondocking locations in the great state of Arizona? Fortunately for those who like to boondock, a large percentage (44 percent) of the state is comprised of federal land where you can camp. Areas open for boondocking include those managed by the BLM and the USFS (national parks, like the Grand Canyon and the Saguaro National Park, don’t allow boondocking and restrict camping at campgrounds only). During the hot summer months it’s best to camp in the higher elevations above 7,000 ft where it’s cooler and that basically limits you to the national forests. Conversely, during the winter and early spring, the lower elevation desert areas found on BLM land, like Quartzsite, are where you’ll want to boondock to avoid snow.

You should be aware that the US Forest Service has implemented new travel management rules. These have been implemented primarily to curb the damage caused by reckless OHV owners, so these new rules affect motor vehicle use only. These rules state that you can boondock up to 300 ft on forest roads designated for dispersed camping. On those routes not designated as such you are permitted to park one vehicle length (about 30 ft) from the road. No restrictions exist for tent camping unless signs specifically prohibit overnight camping. More links to Arizona boondocking (dispersed camping) opportunities are provided below:

About Mello Mike 728 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. A communications expert and licensed ham radio operator, he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side. He currently rolls in a 4WD Ram 3500 outfitted with a SherpTek truck bed with a Bundutec Roadrunner mounted on top. - KK7TCA

2 Comments

  1. Mike,

    Thank you for posting this information. Living in AZ too (Tucson) it cab be confusing understanding all of the various restrictions within our state.

    Rudy

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