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Lessons Learned: Water & Waste Tank Management

By Jenn

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When was the last time you thought about turning on the faucet and pouring a glass of water or taking a hot shower but stopped, first to think about your how much water you had or how much room in your sewer you had left? For most people, it never really enters their mind. If you live in an area with drought conditions, you might give it pause, or if you live an area prone to droughts, but for a lot of us, we never give it a second thought. When you are long-term boondocking, it is always on your mind. No one wants to run out of water or fill their black and grey tanks to overflowing so you do have to think about it.

My T@b predates the addition of the Sea Level II monitor, which provides monitoring for your freshwater and waste tanks, so I had to “guesstimate.” I have a 5 gallon freshwater tank, inside of the T@b, a 6 gallon black tank, and an 11 gallon grey tank.  That is not a lot of tank storage, by most standards. I wrote about


I have written 2 posts on water, part 1 and part 2, so I will not spend much time rehashing what is in those posts because they go into detail. However, I wanted to share a couple of things that I learned. First, I had never needed to find potable water outside of a campground, before I boondocked, last summer.  I had heard that you could find it at gas stations but never actually seen it at any gas stations, and what I learned is that it is much more common to find potable water at gas stations in the west. In some places, you might find that there is a spigot but that it has been disconnected. Even if you don’t see it, ask. In one case, I had not noticed the spigot, but noticed a garden hose on the side of the station, so I asked if I could use it. It was then that they told me I was welcome to either use the sink at the little snack center where they had things like hot dogs and nachos or I could use the spigot at the gas pumps (as they pointed to where it was) or, I was welcome to use the garden hose connection. This little Love’s Travel center got a lot of business from me all summer, because of this. I bought my gas and snacks there, regularly and also took advantage of their spotless bathroom facilities. So the lesson, is ask.

In addition to the local gas station, I found water at the local visitor’s center. I dropped a donation in the jar and filled there a few times. In the same town, there was a sign in the park that indicated that water was also available at the public works building. The second lesson is that water is readily available in many p different types of places in the west. They are used to RVs and generally see that being RV friendly is beneficial to their towns’ success.

Another lesson I learned is that not all water containers are created equally. I started with a couple of these containers, and reinforced the seams with tape, on the recommendation of another T@bber.  I really like the shape, size, and the convenient spigot and wide mouth openings. However, they both eventually sprung leaks. My MSR Dromedary was solid, but it was difficult to handle and even more difficult to pour. Since I have returned I have picked up, this top, which has a spigot. It gets mixed reviews on Amazon about leaks, but after some initial testing, mine seems OK. The plus of the spigot is that it fits a wide-mouthed Nalgene bottle, too. The Dromedary also has a shower attachment you can get if you are looking for an all in one camp container. The construction is really solid.

I really wanted, however, a container that sits up on the counter so it is accessible all day, to remind me to drink. So, I added this Stanley 2 Gallon Insulated Water Jug. They have both 1 and two gallon containers available but I really like the 2-gallon size. It gets very good reviews on Amazon and I am looking forward to trying it.  Since it is insulated, I might even, occasionally buy some ice for it when I am on the road.

In addition, I have a Camelback hydration bladder for hiking, and a couple of Nalgene bottles, as well as a Hydroflask, which keeps water cold for hours. The Hydo Flask also fits in my tow vehicle’s cup holder.

I used a 5-gallon Scepter water container to refill the freshwater tank. The 5-gallon container is such a great value that I don’t think you can beat it.

 My Scepter water container performed perfectly. It is a little heavy, so bear that in mind. I wouldn’t mind picking up a couple of these smaller, 2.5 gallon Scepters, to replace it, but for the low cost, and quality, it’s a tremendous value. IF there is a weak point, it is the spout, but that is easily replaced.

Keeping water on hand was very manageable, and it would not have been the end of the world to pick up a few gallons from Family Dollar if it would have been necessary.

Economy of Water and Waste Tanks

When it came to balancing water use and the grey tank, it was actually not too difficult. I could take 2-3 showers with one fill of the 5 gallon freshwater tank. You can about 2.5 gallons, more water, if you fill your hot water tank, in the Alde. Since my grey water tank is 11 gallons, I could fill the freshwater tank, twice and have a little room left for grey water from dishwashing and teeth brushing. I found that if I used my two, 5 gallon portable grey tanks, I could last 2 weeks before having to dump my tanks, if I used public bathrooms when I was out and about. I learned to make stopping at the bathroom before I left town a priority to help stretch the tanks. I have also used TravelJohn waste bags when the black tank was getting full to extend my stay. I have never had an odor when using them and they are double sealed when you are done. These bags can be disposed of in any trash receptacle. Because I have the capacities dialed in so tightly, I don’t use my freshwater tank to flush my toilet, I fill a gallon water jug, and pour into the toilet. To learn more about dumping your tanks, read this post.

Bathroom Odors

Fear of bathroom odors is often a concern that prevents people from purchasing a T@b with a bathroom. The only time I had an odor issue is when the shower trap dried out. I poured a little water down the drain and it was gone. I also use a gel pack tank treatment every time I empty my tanks, as a precaution. I used to use Happy Campers organic treatment. It works great and I had no issues with the job it did, I just found I was apt to spill it, too often, so I went for the cleaner option. One word of caution. I accidently broke one of the gel packs and did not realize it. I then left the T@b closed for a few hours. When I returned, it stung my eyes and throat like you wouldn’t believe. It was almost like the time I inadvertently discharged bear spray in my face. Take care not to break a tank treatment gel pack and if you do, clean it up, thoroughly, immediately. I also give my tanks a thorough rinsing at every opportunity. I use the Flush King to backwash the tanks

Dish Washing

I was a miser when it came to washing dishes. First, I used a food scraper or paper towels to get the dishes as clean, as possible. Then, I used the spray bottle described in my other articles and a scrubbing brush that dispensed soap from its handle. Ordinarily, this worked well. For stubborn, stuck on food, I resorted to additional water, but that was very rare. I replaced the gravity fill on my T@b because I found it difficult to deal with, while filling. I replaced it with this model, which has had no issues and made filling much easier. Because of the fold-down design, the original water fill really gets in the way when you are filling with a large container but the new one I installed has no such obstacle.

Filling the Freshwater Tank

I usually travel with 2, 25’ hoses for fresh water and one hose for rinsing out the waste tanks and sewer hose. Since I have only needed the second water hose, I a, consider bringing, only one hose. Make sure you use a water safe hose for drinking water. A garden hose might be cheaper, but it will taste that way, too. I also use a Camco filter on my hose and water pressure reducer right before the gravity fill on the T@b. The filter will help keep junk out of your pump. If you are filling from a spot with silt-filled water, it will plug up your filter, but that is what it is designed to do. It is preventing your pump from collecting the silt. I have never had poor smelling or tasting water and I think it is because I use the filter. I don’t drink from the freshwater tank, often, because I conserve that water for showers.


The pressure regulator is a must. It will keep high water pressure from bursting a pipe in your T@b. I keep one on my fresh water and one on my black water hose. You can also use it to regulate air pressure when you blow your lines out, to winterize.

Gravity Fill Replacement

I replaced the gravity fill on my T@b because I found it difficult to deal with, while filling. I replaced it with this model, which has had no issues and made filling much easier. Because of the fold-down design, the original water fill really gets in the way when you are filling with a large container but the new one I installed has no such obstacle.

Dump Stations

I did not have trouble finding dump stations. Whether it was the free ones on the turnpike in OH, the ones at welcome center, free facilities at gas stations and fairgrounds, or paid stations, I found them plentiful. I often did an Internet search for dump stations near the town I was traveling to, or looked for rest areas along my route that had them and found that I was able to get in and out, quickly.

 Truthfully, water and waste tank management became very routine. If you are on a trip and going from campground to campground or mixing in dry camping of any kind, know which stops will have water and dump stations, and plan, accordingly. Once you get a feel for what your capacities are, you will be able to boondock, with ease and it’s not the end of the world if you have to run to the store for more water. I may, someday, swap my tanks to the larger ones, on the current T@bs. It would not only get me more water and tanks space, but more kitchen storage space, which would be helpful.

What have you learned about managing your water and waste tanks?